Flu vaccination: penultimate wave was deadliest in 30 years

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Sun 26th Apr, 2020

The flu season starts again: time for at-risk patients to get vaccinated! This year, the health insurance companies are again taking over the more expensive quadruple vaccine in order to prevent a flu wave like two years ago. It was the deadliest in 30 years.

No one can predict how much flu will spread, because the viruses are extremely changeable. The best time to get vaccinated is around October and November. The flu wave usually reaches its peak after the turn of the year. The flu pathogen should not be underestimated, as it is responsible for many deaths.

2017/18: Deadliest flu wave in 30 years

Around 25,100 people lost their lives in Germany in the exceptionally strong flu wave in 2017/18, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). This is the highest number of deaths in the past 30 years, said RKI President Lothar Wieler.

Lack of protection by triple active ingredient

One possible reason for this may be that in the 2017/18 flu season, only a triple vaccine was used for patients of the statutory health insurance funds, which did not provide sufficient protection. Patients covered by private health insurance were more fortunate as their health insurance companies largely paid for the quadruple vaccine. Every spring, the World Health Organization makes a prediction: But for this severe flu season, the experts were wrong: they didn't have an eye on the most dangerous virus line of the season, the Yamagata Line. And it was precisely this missing virus in the flu vaccine that accounted for about two-thirds of all viral diseases.

How did the past flu season go?

In the 2018/19 flu season, patients with public health insurance were also entitled to the more expensive flu vaccination with the quadruple active ingredient. This season, the flu caused 3.8 million doctor visits - less than half as many doctor visits as in the previous season. 40.000 people were hospitalized - in many cases with acute respiratory distress syndrome or pneumonia, according to RKI expert Silke Buda.

Quadruple vaccine again this year

A flu vaccine protects against the most common flu virus variants in the upcoming season. The flu viruses are cunning and versatile: they are constantly changing. Every year, therefore, a new vaccine must be developed that is effective against the current influenza viruses that are currently circulating.

According to the Paul Ehrlich Institute, about 15.7 million doses of vaccine have been released so far. They contain components of the expected virus variants. "The vaccine for the new season has two new, updated influenza A components - it's particularly worthwhile to get vaccinated," Buda said. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a flu vaccine is the most important means of protecting yourself from the flu disease - even if it does not offer 100% protection. It has an effectiveness of between 40 and 60 percent. In addition, the experts recommend thorough hand washing with soap and keeping distance from sick people.

Who should get vaccinated?

The RKI recommends a flu vaccine for all those who belong to an at-risk group. These are: people over 60 years of age, pregnant women (from the second third of pregnancy), people who have a lot of professional contact with others such as hospital staff or nurses for the elderly, patients suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and children with diabetes.

Symptoms of flu

Flu often starts suddenly, often making one feel sick within an hour. The question of whether one can go to work does not arise because of the severe symptoms. Usually you get high fever (over 39 degrees), severe limb and muscle pain and colds.

For the at-risk group, flu disease poses a real risk, as the risk of a serious course of the disease is increased. The flu can lead to life-threatening complications - the most significant are bacterial pulmonary or heart muscle inflammation. Both can be fatal.

Vaccination protection effective after 14 days

The Robert Koch Institute recommends October and November as the optimal time for a flu vaccine. After vaccination, it takes about 10-14 days for vaccination protection to build up. This lasts six to twelve months. Vaccination must be carried out before the next flu season. In the elderly, these vaccinations do not work quite as well. For this reason, so-called adjuvant, i.e. reinforced influenza vaccines have been developed for seniors. These, according to the RKI, may cause more severe local side effects.

Possible side effects of vaccination

Sometimes redness or swelling of the puncture site or mild, flu-like symptoms (discomfort, fever, limb pain) can occur. All of that usually subsides quickly. Severe side effects, such as paralysis, meningitis or seizures are extremely rare.

Who shouldn't get vaccinated?

Those who have a cold or have just overcome it should not be vaccinated, but wait until they are fully healthy again. Babies and patients with an allergy to chicken protein should first check with a doctor whether they should be vaccinated against influenza as the vaccines are manufactured on the basis of chicken protein.


NOTE: for foreigners based in Germany, health insurance is compulsory and a necessary requirement for those seeking medical treatment.  If you earn over 62k Euros, then you are eligible for private health insurance in Germany.  To learn more and/or request a quote, see here.

Photo by Hyttalo Souza

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