Some northern hemisphere countries struggling to source more flu vaccines: WHO

The WHO said health workers and the elderly should be prioritised in case of any shortages. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (REUTERS) - Some northern hemisphere countries are having trouble obtaining additional flu vaccines amid increased demand, but health workers and the elderly should be prioritised in case of any shortages, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday (Sept 25).

With official warnings of a potential "twindemic" as Covid-19 surges in Europe just ahead of the flu season, the WHO is recommending that people get a seasonal flu vaccine to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed. But some countries appear not to have enough for everyone, it said.

"Some countries are having trouble sourcing additional vaccine," Ann Moen, WHO chief of influenza preparedness and response, told a UN briefing in Geneva, declining to name any.

"Whoever has extra flu vaccine let us know," she said, half-joking, at the end of the briefing.

In the event of shortfalls, countries should prioritise five groups and especially health care workers and the elderly, the WHO recommends. Next in line should be pregnant women, those with underlying conditions and children, she added.

Most countries place their orders about 9-12 months in advance based on national health policies so have already decided on their doses for this year's flu season. Some manufacturers can ramp up supplies to meet last-minute demand, but there are limits.

On a positive note, less flu virus is circulating in the southern hemisphere's current flu season, including in Australia and South Africa, partly due to physical distancing and travel restrictions in place against Covid-19, Moen said.

"If this follows suit and influenza also is in low circulation in the northern hemisphere, we may see less infections. And we also hope to see less infections due to the very high uptake of influenza vaccine," she added.

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