Evidence of the benefits of flu vaccination for vulnerable groups is overwhelming, but flu vaccination programmes face extraordinary challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flu can be a dangerous illness for people in certain vulnerable groups, such as those with underlying health conditions, babies and young children, pregnant women and older people. Worldwide, flu is responsible for up to 650,000 deaths each year. To lessen that burden and protect vulnerable populations, effective flu vaccination programmes have been rolled out annually.
The 2021/22 flu season is expected to coincide with an uptick in COVID-19 infections, a situation likely to exacerbate the strain that health systems have been under since the start of the pandemic. There is evidence that people infected with both flu and COVID-19 are twice as likely to die as those who are only infected with COVID-19, making the case for flu vaccination stronger than ever.
Flu vaccination programmes are well established in many countries around the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about challenges that health systems may not be prepared for. These challenges include complacency about flu compared with the gravity of COVID-19; optimal timing of flu vaccination in the context of national COVID-19 vaccination programmes; the unpredictability of a flu season coinciding with another possible spike in COVID-19 infections; and capacity of health systems expected to deliver both flu and COVID-19 vaccines.