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Monday, 25 April 2022

JOHANNESBURG - South Africans should prepare for the fast-approaching winter season by ensuring they get vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19, the AfroCentric Group said as it marked the start of World Immunisation Week.

Over the last two years, the incidence of common colds and flu has been low due to several public health measures targeted at COVID-19 prevention, such as handwashing, use of masks and social distancing protocols. However, with the country now essentially out of lockdown, the resulting movement of people has seen seasonal flu stage a comeback.

According to Dr Samukeliso Dube, General Manager for medical advisory and health policy at the AfroCentric Group, there has been an increase in influenza cases since late last year and this rise is set to continue into the winter.

Dr Dube said the Group does not, however, anticipate a particularly bad flu season. "We do not expect a severe flu season when compared with pre-COVID-19 seasons. However, we do encourage those with an increased risk of severe complications of influenza, including pregnant women, HIV-infected individuals, and those with chronic illness or conditions such as diabetes, lung disease and tuberculosis to get vaccinated against the flu," Dr Dube said. "Elderly people over 65 and children under two, who are prone to severe flu, should also be vaccinated," she said.

Dr Dube noted that the rate of flu vaccinations had dropped alarmingly over the last two years due to the reluctance to access health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic and hoped to see a marked improvement in 2022.

Importantly, Dr Dube said that in addition to the flu vaccine, people should also get vaccinated against COVID-19, whether it is an initial dose or a booster shot. She said data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases showed that the coronavirus test positivity rate in South Africa has been going up, certainly in the last few weeks, indicating that the number of undetected infections may be rising. Some scientists have also been predicting the start of a fifth wave of infections in late April/early May and while it is not clear whether there will indeed be a fifth wave and if there is, whether it will be severe, it is important to be prepared.

Dr Dube noted that the latest trends based on scheme data indicated increases in COVID-19 positivity rates to over 17%, up from 8.8% 2 weeks ago. However, no uptick had been observed in COVID-19 admission rates indicating that the cases were less severe and not requiring hospitalisation.

"There can be no doubt that the reduction in the number of severe cases of COVID-19 is due to increased community immunity from vaccination and past COVID-19 infection," Dr Dube said. "I would strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated because it remains the only real way to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19," she concluded.

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