France could be hit by a severe wave of seasonal flu this winter as people’s immunity remains low after years of Covid restrictions, a leading immunologist has warned.
The situation was similar last year, when people were mixing again after a winter of 2020 defined by the separation of a Covid lockdown, but this winter, people have stopped observing infection control measures such as social distancing.
Alain Fischer, the former head of the government’s vaccination strategy board, told Le Parisien: “This year, we will struggle to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing… in the face of this relaxation, there is a serious risk of a flu epidemic.”
There was not a significant flu epidemic in 2020 or 2021, which means that people in France do not have the antibodies needed to protect themselves against the virus.
Concern has also been stoked by the severe wave of flu experienced this year in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the number of monthly cases in 2022 had overtaken that of 2017 and 2019, which both saw significant death rates.
More than 147,000 infections have been detected this year in the country, compared to just 731 in 2021, the newspaper reports.
“What has happened in Australia is a warning sign,” Prof Fischer said.
“A Covid-flu cohabitation is nothing to be cheerful about. It is a synonym of a very high number of hospitalisations,” he added.
Over in the US, the president’s medical advisor Anthony Fauci has also warned the public that they should prepare for a “very bad flu season”.
Both the US and French governments are therefore encouraging eligible people to get their flu vaccination, which can be injected at the same time as a Covid booster.
The flu jab campaign will begin in France on October 18, while the Covid booster programme began on October 3.
Health Minister François Braun has said that people can continue to wear masks on public transport and other crowded places, as “this protects you from flu, from bronchiolitis for children. It is not just protection against Covid”.
We look at how priority groups can go about getting their flu jab in France.
Who is prioritised for the flu jab in France?
Flu vaccinations can be carried out by a doctor, a nurse, a midwife or a pharmacist.
The vaccination campaign is aimed at the most vulnerable people, and can include:
- People with heart or respiratory problems
- People with a chronic liver condition or cirrhosis
- Obese people
- Pregnant women
- People who work on cruise ships or as tour guides, for example, and who come into contact with many different people
- Healthcare workers
- People who work with young children or the elderly
- People who live in the same house as a newborn baby or an immunosuppressed patient
You can find out more about this on the government website.
How to get your flu jab
If you are invited to receive a flu vaccination, you should have received a letter in September or at the beginning of this month, containing a bon de vaccination (vaccination voucher). This reflects that your injection is covered by Assurance maladie and that you do not have to pay for it.
If you have already used a bon de vaccination before, you need only go to your pharmacist, present your voucher and ask for the vaccine.
You can then arrange to receive the vaccination from any of the professionals listed above, and the injection will be free of charge as well.
If this is the first time you have been sent a bon de vaccination, you should consult your doctor, who will prescribe you the vaccine if they judge it necessary.
You will then be able to obtain it free of charge from the pharmacy.
If you are vulnerable but have not received a voucher, you can ask your doctor, nurse, midwife or pharmacist to give you one. Please note that pharmacists and nurses can only do this for adults.
If you do not belong to one of the priority groups, you can still have the flu vaccination, but you will most likely have to pay full price for it.
If it is recommended that you have the vaccine because of the work that you do, your injection will often be organised by your employer.
Side effects such as swelling around the site of the injection, tiredness, headaches and a slight fever are common, but if you experience anything out of the ordinary, you can inform the French health ministry through this report form.
If you experience very severe symptoms, or symptoms that show no sign of abating after 48 hours, you should contact your doctor.
Who is eligible for the new Covid booster jab?
The groups being prioritised for the new Covid boosters, which are designed to be particularly effective against Omicron subvariants, are:
- People aged over 60
- Residents of care homes (Ehpad and Unités de soins de longue durée (USLD)
- People aged at least 18 and at risk of developing a serious form of Covid (those who have weakened immune systems, pregnant women, those with serious long-term health conditions…)
- People living with/in close contact with the vulnerable people in the point above
- Health professionals