• 22 August, 2020 11:57 am

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Rush for flu vaccine in China as doctors and a nervous population fear influenza season colliding with Covid-19

Residents in major mainland cities have rushed to book flu vaccines as experts warn of the combined risks from flu and Covid-19 in the coming autumn and winter.Some private hospitals offering presale of the self-paid vaccine have seen the product sell out within hours as people anticipate high demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.Experts have warned that diagnosis will be more difficult for doctors, the death rate will rise and more social resources will be in demand when the flu comes together with Covid-19.

Only about 30 million flu shots are given each year in China, covering 2 per cent of the Chinese population, according to official data.

Jiahui Health, a private hospital in Shanghai, offered about 17,000 shots that could be booked via its online store and all were bought within a few days.

American-Sino Women’s and Children’s Hospital, another private hospital, said it offered around 300 presale shots recently and they were sold out within just half a day.

The vaccines are distributed by the government to medical organisations. Most flu shot appointments are not usually available until September.

Chen Lixia, a 40-year-old mother in Beijing, said she had never had a flu vaccine before, but this year she had booked for her entire family in advance.

“If we get flu, we’ll have a fever and need to go to hospital. I’m hoping my family has to visit hospitals as little as possible because they’ll be high-risk places with the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.

Wang Chen, one of China’s top experts in respiratory diseases, has urged more people to have flu shots this year because of fears that the seasonal disease would further complicate the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Each year there are many deaths from flu, and if this is to combine with Covid-19 there will be a big shock to social mentality and social order,” he told an annual meeting of the China Association for Science and Technology at the weekend.

Wang, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said to prevent the spread of both flu and Covid-19, more people should be vaccinated.In the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, some 18 of every 50 patients with a severe case of Covid-19 also had flu at the same time, according to Sun Tieying, a Beijing-based respiratory doctor who worked in Wuhan.

Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, said it had been difficult to book flu shots in major cities, yet 20 per cent of vaccine supplies were wasted each year because of inconsistent distribution and varying demand across different areas.

He said calls for a higher vaccination rate seemed to be unrealistic now because manufacturers were being cautious in production.

“Manufacturers need to pay for transport and medical waste treatment during the disposal of expired vaccines. They could lose money if this is not properly handled,” he said.

“Besides, most manufacturers have finished production now and are waiting for approval from the government to go to the market,” he said. “They could increase production but the process would be long and there would be the risk of sluggish sales.”

Despite public concerns about the return of the coronavirus in winter, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said there would not be another outbreak like the one in Wuhan.

Outbreaks in the northeast in April and May, Beijing in June, and Xinjiang in July were all brought under control promptly, he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“These facts show that we have the ability to identify cases in the early phase and control the spread in time,” he said.

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