published on Monday 17 October 2022 at 05:10

France will launch its flu vaccination campaign on Tuesday, with authorities hoping to avoid a major epidemic in a health context already marked by a wave of Covid-19.

“There is every possible interest in being vaccinated quickly for people at risk,” warned immunologist Jean-Daniel Lelièvre in early October during a press briefing by ANRS, the public body for the fight against infectious diseases.

This will be possible from Tuesday. The targeted people will be able to get vaccinated against influenza free of charge from a doctor, a pharmacy, a nurse or a midwife.

These people mainly include people over 65, pregnant women, the severely obese (BMI over 40) and patients with certain chronic diseases such as diabetes.

The flu vaccine will be reserved for them until November 15. Subsequently, all French people will be able to benefit from it, but at their own expense if they are not part of the target.

At the moment, the flu is limited to a few sporadic cases in France, and it is impossible to know to what extent the epidemic will take. But several experts are already worried about a difficult year.

“There are several reasons”, elaborated Jean-Daniel Lelièvre, referring in particular to data from the countries of the southern hemisphere, including Australia: the influenza epidemic, which takes place there before the countries of the Nordic countries, resulted in quite severe symptoms.

– “We pay less attention” –

But the concerns also come in several respects from the context linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

After almost three years, “we use the mask much less, we pay less attention”, emphasizes the immunologist.

Another negative element, last year, in a vague context with the launch of a booster vaccination campaign against Covid, the French received little vaccination against influenza: Barely more than half of those eligible did it.

“So immunity tends to decline in the general population,” concluded Mr. Lelièvre.

This year, the authorities are again challenged with double vaccination against influenza and Covid.

A new recall campaign is underway for the latter, and with influenza, the targets largely overlap. Among the few discrepancies, people between the ages of 60 and 65 are concerned about anti-Covid and not anti-flu vaccination.

No worries, a priori, regarding supply. The French giant Sanofi, which supplies around half of the vaccines in the country, reported production “well above demand”.

– Two birds with one stone –

Rather, the risk concerns a lack of clarity at the level of articulation between the two vaccinations: instead of a joint launch, the anti-Covid campaign began at the beginning of October.

It concerns the appearance at the start of the school year of a new wave of Covid, which caused the health authorities to rush.

So why not promote the campaign against influenza? “If we start too early, (…) we risk that people will not be covered if we have a late influenza epidemic”, we explain to the Ministry of Health.

But last season, the flu epidemic came unusually late: It peaked at the beginning of spring and not, as usual, at the turn of the New Year.

In any case, the health authorities would like to encourage eligible French people to kill two birds with one stone: get vaccinated against Covid in one arm and against influenza in the other.

“A certain number of our fellow citizens have reservations (and) we respect that” despite the demonstrated absence of risk, we admit to the ministry. But “the message is still to get the two vaccinations within a relatively short period of time.”

In addition to vaccination alone, the authorities are also trying to formulate a discourse that includes the fight against the two diseases, at a time when the current wave of Covid is receiving relatively little media coverage despite hospitalizations and deaths.

“We must not trivialize” Covid, said Thursday the Minister of Health, François Braun, to AFP “We must also protect against influenza. It is good, the barrier movements, they protect against one like the other.”