“Please get vaccinated against the flu,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told Germans earlier this month, saying that the government had bought “more than enough” doses of the flu vaccine.
Germany has ordered 27 million doses of this year’s flu vaccine. Last year doctors shot some 22 million doses of the vaccine into people’s arms – a significantly higher number than in previous years.
“We want to achieve that kind of number again,” Spahn said.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, also urged people to get vaccinated against the flu in addition to their Covid-19 jab.
“If there are a lot of Covid-19 and a lot of flu cases at the same time, it puts a massive strain on hospitals,” Wieler said.
READ ALSO: German doctors warn of surge in common colds
The measures imposed by governments around the world to slow the spread of coronavirus have also had an impact on influenza infections.
Cases of flu were very rare in Germany last winter, a fact that virologists say is due to mask wearing and other hygiene rules.
But a lack of contact with influenza means that immunity has been weakened.
Ulrike Protzer, Professor of Virology at the Technical University of Munich, told broadcaster ARD that children now lack the natural defence system they would otherwise have built up over the past two years.
There have already been unusually high cases of the common cold this autumn, something that appears to be down to weakened immunity.
“If we stop wearing masks now, all these cold viruses and the flu will start to come back in December,” Protzer warned.
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Virologists in Switzerland have advised a different approach to tackling the flu.
In September, Andreas Widmer, head of the Swiss Centre for the Protection against Infection, said that mask wearing rules should end for people vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to help them rebuild immunity against other airborne infections.
“It would make sense if only a mask recommendation rather than a mask requirement applied to vaccinated people in stores and train stations or even in offices,” he told a Swiss newspaper.
What is the flu, and how does it differ from the common cold?
The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses.
The symptoms of the two diseases are often very similar, but symptoms of the flu will usually appear rapidly and all at once, while a common cold will develop more gradually.
Common flu symptoms include fatigue, a high fever, cough, sore throat, and aches and pains.
Some of these symptoms are similar to those of coronavirus. You should contact your doctor, your local hotline or the non-emergency number 116 117 if you are unsure if it coronavirus and they can advise you on the next steps.
Who should get vaccinated against the flu?
The Standing Committee on Vaccination at the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has published a list of population groups particularly at risk of suffering from complications if they contract the flu.
The ‘at-risk’ groups for whom vaccination is strongly recommended are as follows:
- Those above the age of 60
- All pregnant women in their 2nd or 3rd trimester, as well as women in their 1st trimester who are particularly at risk of illness-related complications
- People with chronic respiratory illnesses, heart or circulation problems, liver or kidney problems, diabetes or other metabolic diseases, chronic neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis or immune diseases.
- Those living in care homes
- Those living with (or in regular close contact with) people in the above risk groups
- Those working in high-risk professions such as medicine, or in settings where they find themselves in regular contact with the public
Those in direct contact with poultry and wild birds should also get vaccinated. While the vaccine does not protect against bird flu, it prevents possibly dangerous cases of infection with both types of flu.
Adults under 60, teenagers and children may wish to consider vaccination if they find themselves in regular contact with those in at-risk groups, but the cost may not be covered by their health insurance.
People should contact their GP to get the flu jab.
Where can I get vaccinated in Germany?
Vaccinations can be carried out by your local Hausarzt (general practitioner), and should be covered by your insurance if you belong to a risk group. Simply visit the practice with your health insurance card to get vaccinated. If you are not sure if you qualify for a free flu jab, call your doctor up to ask.
Many other specialist medical practices (such as pediatric or gynecological) also offer walk-in services.
Some employers will also offer a free vaccination service for their employees to ensure they remain fit enough to work, but this is not always the case.
READ ALSO: Who can get a Covid booster shot in Germany?
When should I get vaccinated?
The immunity offered by the vaccination only lasts for around six months, and it takes around two weeks after vaccination for the body to build up immunity to the virus.
Therefore, the RKI suggests that October and November are the best months to ensure maximum protection throughout the seasonal flu wave, which usually peaks between December and March/April.