Is it just a “touch of the flu” for you, or do you face a greater risk?

Task Force for Global Health/Ilya Karimdjanov

While influenza may be unpleasant and inconvenient for some, others run a higher risk of developing complications. This makes it all the more crucial that they receive an influenza vaccine every winter, which can protect them from falling ill from the most common strains of the virus.

Risk groups include older people, pregnant women, young children and people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Health workers are exposed to the virus on a daily basis during the influenza season, and also need to be protected by vaccination.

The 6th Flu Awareness Campaign aims to boost understanding of the importance of seasonal influenza vaccination and increase uptake of the vaccine. It kicks off on Monday, 22 October 2018.

Flu Awareness Campaign – more needed than ever

Since the 2009 pandemic, there has been a steady decline in vaccination uptake in a number of countries in the WHO European Region for many complex reasons. These range from vaccine stock-outs to mistrust to lack of access to the health system.

This is a serious concern for the Region, where every season a large number of older people are hospitalized with influenza. In any given influenza season, WHO/Europe estimates that up to 60 000 people over the age of 65 die of influenza or related complications. Up to 650 000 people die globally of causes associated with seasonal influenza.

WHO/Europe aims to ensure that 75% of people in risk groups are vaccinated each season, and yet coverage of people with chronic diseases is below 40% in most countries of the Region. Fewer than half of European Member States recommend influenza vaccination for young children, and 10% do not yet have vaccine recommendations for pregnant women.

In this context, a campaign to raise awareness and change behaviour related to influenza vaccination – both among national decision-makers and the general public – is more important than ever.
WHO supports countries to promote influenza vaccination

In connection with the Flu Awareness Campaign, WHO established its first expert advisory group on influenza communication to support European countries with public communication about the virus and the vaccine.

It is also organizing a Facebook Live question-and-answer session with 2 leading experts, entitled “Influenza vaccination – what you need to know” on Wednesday, 24 October 2018 at 10:30 CEST. Dr Dina Pfeifer of WHO/Europe is a medical doctor with many years’ experience in immunization and vaccine safety. Dr Tyra Grove Krause of the Statens Serum Institut is a medical doctor and epidemiologist responsible for influenza vaccination in Denmark. They will discuss who can be vaccinated, vaccine effectiveness and safety, and the advantages of timely immunization.

In addition to these activities, a selection of communications materials will be available to countries, 14 of which are working directly with WHO/Europe to raise awareness of the importance of influenza vaccination. Across the Region, multimedia campaigns will appear on public transport and in parks, as well as via traditional posters and leaflets.