The return of the flu: The EU is facing a prolonged “twindemic”

The flu has returned to Europe faster than expected this winter, after it almost disappeared last year, raising concerns about a prolonged “twindemia” with Covid-19 amid doubts about the effectiveness of flu vaccines. .

Blockages, wearing masks and social distancing, which became the norm in Europe during the pandemic, wiped out the flu last winter, temporarily eradicating a virus that kills around 650,000 people a year globally.

But that has changed now that countries are taking less stringent measures to fight Covid-19 because of widespread vaccination.

Influenza viruses have been circulating in Europe since mid-December at a higher rate than expected, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported.

The recovery of the virus could be the beginning of an unusually long flu season, which could last until the summer, ECDC top flu expert Pasi Penttinen told Reuters.

A “twindemic” could put undue pressure on already overburdened health systems, the ECDC report said.

Complicating matters further, the dominant flu strain circulating this year appears to be H3 of the A virus so far, which usually causes the worst cases among the elderly.

Penttinen said it was too early to make a final assessment of the flu vaccines, as more sick patients were needed for testing. But laboratory tests show that the vaccines available this year “will not be optimal” against H3.

This is largely due to the fact that the virus circulated very little or not at all when the composition of the vaccines was decided last year, which made it more difficult for pharmaceutical manufacturers to predict which strain will be dominant in the next flu season.

Vaccines Europe, the largest vaccine maker in the region, acknowledged that strain selection was hampered by very low flu circulation last year, but added that there is still not enough data to assess the effectiveness of vaccines this season.

Influenza vaccines are adapted every year to make them as effective as possible against the ever-changing influenza virus. Their composition is decided six months before the start of the flu season, based on the circulation of viruses.

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