Low vaccination rates against the latest versions of Covid-19 and influenza are putting strain on health systems around the world, with reports of rising hospital admissions for respiratory infections in the US, various European countries and other regions. Although mortality rates among the elderly have increased, they are still lower than at the peak of the pandemic, on Friday, the 12th of January, reports Reuters.
For example, due to the rising number of cases, the Spanish government, like some US hospitals, have renewed the requirement to wear masks in healthcare facilities.
Maria Van Kerkhove, acting director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness at the World Health Organisation (WHO), expressed concern about
the “incredibly low” vaccination rates against influenza and Covid-19 worldwide.
She stressed that too many people need serious medical care for both respiratory diseases at a time when they are preventable.
Infectious disease experts and health officials stress that governments are failing to communicate effectively about the persistent risks of Covid-19 and are not properly reporting on the benefits of vaccination.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Immunisation Survey, despite recommendations, only 19.4% of US adults this season have received Covid-19 vaccine against the new variants, but nearly half (44.9%) have received the influenza vaccine, roughly the same as the previous year.
CDC Director Mandy Cohen expressed concern that too few people have received the updated Covid-19 vaccine, stressing that people still do not understand that Covid-19 is a more serious disease than influenza.
Most of the vaccines used in the US and the European Union (EU) this season are made by Pfizer with its German partner BioNTech, or Moderna, according to Reuters.
In Europe, the spread of influenza is faster than Covid-19,
and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports that in the last week of 2023, 24% of a representative sample tested positive, up from 19% two weeks earlier.
The ECDC lacks data on influenza or Covid-19 vaccination rates across Europe, but preliminary data suggest that vaccination against Covid-19 is below pandemic levels.
Vaccines suitable for the new Covid-19 variants are recommended for high-risk groups in Europe.
WHO has indicated that Covid-19 is also increasing in the southern hemisphere during the summer as it is not yet a seasonal virus.
Last month, 850 000 new cases of Covid-19 and 118 000 new hospitalisations
were reported worldwide, up 52% and 23% respectively from November, Reuters writes, citing WHO data, with actual figures likely to be higher.
Experts believe that vaccines remain highly effective in preventing serious illness. A study in Sweden found that new vaccines for the XBB.1.5 coronavirus variant reduced the risk of hospitalisation for Covid-19 by 76.1% in people affected by the newer variants, based on public health data on adults over 65 years of age.
It is estimated that influenza vaccines produced this year by different manufacturers can reduce the risk of hospitalisation by 52%, but Covid-19 vaccine fatigue is preventing people from getting the influenza vaccine, according to Reuters.
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