Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there seems to be an increased demand for influenza vaccine in the northern hemisphere with some countries experiencing shortages, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said on Friday.
Dr. Ann Moen, WHO chief of the Influenza Preparedness and Response, said at a news briefing that at the same time, some parts of the southern hemisphere reported fewer influenza cases this year.
"We've heard from specific countries saying that they were trying to get additional vaccines, and they were trying to source it. And some countries are having trouble sourcing additional vaccines," said Moen.
She said WHO is helping countries manage prevention, control, and treatment of respiratory illnesses "holistically," including both influenza and COVID-19.
"The co-circulation of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 may place an additional burden on vulnerable populations in health care systems each year," she said, referring to the disease that caused similar outbreaks to the novel coronavirus.
Moen said that seasonal influenza affects people in every country and results in up to 1 billion cases, 3 to 5 million severe cases, and on average, 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory-related deaths annually.
"All of the protective measures […] such as people taking physical distancing measures, hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing masks when appropriate, staying home when sick and taking care are all very important for both flu and COVID."
The WHO expert said that influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent disease and reduce the severity and societal burden due to the sickness.
She said that influenza vaccination and vaccines procurement is "a rather long process," adding vaccines needed "for next season" are ordered 9 to 12 months ahead of time.
"Today, we'll be releasing the vaccine strain recommendations for the southern hemisphere, vaccines for 2021," she said.
Moen said that there had been a record low circulation of flu in the southern hemisphere in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and also in South America.
"We think that this is in part due to all of those social measures and physical distancing, travel restrictions, and some of those measures that have been put in place over the past since the beginning of the pandemic," she said.
There may be "some other hypotheses," contributing to the relatively low circulation of influenza.
"If this follows suit, and influenza is also in low circulation in the northern hemisphere, we may see less infections. And we also hope to see fewer infections due to the very high uptake of influenza vaccine."