New quadrivalent flu vaccine
With the influenza season upon us, it is good to have an annual influenza vaccine to protect yourself.
The vaccines division of Sanofi, Sanofi Pasteur, has introduced a four-strain influenza (flu) vaccine called FluQuadri in Singapore, which protects adults and seniors. According to the company, for decades, seasonal influenza vaccines were trivalent protecting against three strains – two A strains and a single B strain.
However, two distinct influenza B lineages (B/Victoria and B/Yamagata) now co-circulate worldwide in varying and unpredictable proportions. In recent years, influenza B viruses represented up to 44 percent of circulating strains in the US and up to 63 percent in Australia. According to the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Singapore, here, influenza B represents up to 70 percent of all circulating strains in the first quarter of 2016.
Influenza B is the major cause of seasonal influenza epidemics every two to four years, causing substantial absenteeism, hospitalisation and contributing to high mortality rate, according to the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the increase in circulation of both B strains, quadrivalent vaccination offers an enhanced level of protection and substantial public health benefit, said Sanofi.
Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends specific influenza virus strains to be included in the vaccine. The WHO has included quadrivalent influenza vaccines in its recommendations since 2013.
From a public-health perspective, using quadrivalent rather than trivalent vaccines could result in a further reduction of up to 21 million influenza cases, 300,000 influenza-related hospitalisations and 16,000 influenza-related deaths in the US over a decade. This corresponds to a reduction of 80 percent of influenza B-related cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
Singapore’s Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist, added: “Influenza is present throughout the year and poses a threat in tropical countries like Singapore. Influenza viruses can spread rapidly, especially in closed environments such as inside homes, workplace, childcare/school or institutions, and can infect anyone – even healthy people. With continuous evolution of influenza viruses, it is imperative that Singaporeans opt for the quadrivalent vaccine that provides broader protection for them and their family.”
Influenza vaccine recommended for those 65 and above
Globally, influenza epidemics result in about three to five million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths, according to WHO. Seasonal epidemics mainly occur during winter in temperate climates. However, in tropical regions like Singapore, influenza occurs throughout the year without very well-defined influenza seasons. In such regions, influenza is prevalent in two peaks in April to July and November to January of the following year. Each year, 20 percent of Singapore’s population is estimated to be clinically infected from seasonal influenza. Studies have also shown that tropical countries like Singapore demonstrate comparable influenza-related deaths to temperate US.
Influenza is not a common cold; colds are usually milder than the flu. People with a cold will suffer from a runny or stuffy nose, but generally do not result in serious health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalisations. Influenza, which usually starts suddenly, has more intense symptoms such as fever, muscle pain and cough. Acute symptoms and fever may persist for up to seven to 10 days, while weakness and fatigue may be present for weeks.
MOH recommends routine annual influenza vaccination for all high-risk groups, including those above the age of 65 (global data shows that they account for more than 90 percent of all flu-related deaths); those with existing chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and heart disease; caregivers of these high-risk groups; and all healthcare professionals.
Some mild side effects
FluQuadri is currently available at Changi General Hospital, as well as certain specialist and GP clinics. However, Sanofi is working to make it available in other hospitals. According to the company, the retail price for the quadrivalent influenza vaccine varies clinic from clinic, ranging from S$40 to S$50 and is also dependent on consultation and other administration fees.
Asked if there are any side effects, Sanofi shared that there are some mild side effects that can occur after vaccination. For example, redness or soreness where the shot was given or low-grade fever, or headache but they will go away within a few days. If symptoms persist for a long time, do consult your doctor immediately. Also, those who are allergic to eggs or have had an allergic reaction to previous influenza vaccinations should not take this influenza vaccine.