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Flu Lessons From Australia

Southern Hemisphere offers clues for managing influenza amid COVID-19 pandemic.

A masked nurse administers a flu vaccine at an outdoor clinic

COVID-19 has presented public health experts with numerous questions and, in many cases, few answers. One of the major questions facing the medical community is what a flu season will look like in the midst of a global pandemic.

To answer that question, the medical community is looking to the Southern Hemisphere - which has already gone through its traditional flu season. In a recent article published in the journal Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, experts from Seqirus - CSL Behring’s sister company and one of the world’s top flu vaccine makers – shared some of what they learned from the flu season in Australia.

Here are three takeaways.

Flu shot distribution is critical: This flu season, the seasonal flu vaccine will play an important part in reducing the spread of flu, thus reducing hospitalizations and deaths from flu. This can help decrease the burden on the healthcare system and preserve capacity for patients with COVID-19. According to the report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization see the influenza vaccine as a tool to fight against co-infection during the overlapping flu season and COVID-19 pandemic.

Flu shot drives may require creativity: Social distancing requirements forced public health officials to take some novel approaches in Australia to administer the vaccine. The flu shot was administered in places where people could safely maintain physical distance from each other including religious and community halls, parking lots and parks. This strategy is being adopted in some places in the U.S., including at CSL Behring, which offered an outdoor space for employees to receive a free flu shot at the company’s offices in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. 

Social distancing helps prevent flu spread: Social distancing isn’t just good practice to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 – it turns out that it may help prevent the spread of flu as well. Data from the Southern Hemisphere showed that stay-at-home policies and lockdowns helped reduce cases of flu as well as COVID-19. The decreased movement of people was a big factor in a milder-than-usual flu season in Australia, Dr. Jonathan Anderson, Head of Medical Affairs in Asia-Pacific for Seqirus told The New York Times earlier this year. That said, restrictions vary in many parts of North America and Europe, so Australia’s experience may not be comparable everywhere.