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Roshan Parasram

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Members of the at-risk category are urged to get their vaccines for seasonal influenza (flu) along with members of the public as the flu season draws near. The flu season runs between October to May in Trinidad and Tobago and the Ministry of Health has already received its first batch of vaccines on Tuesday.

“We’ve ordered 200,000 vaccines- influenza vaccines- for this flu season which runs from October all the way to May. So we have the first 100,000 in the country. It came in yesterday. That would be to c40 today and then distributed to the health centres in Trinidad and Tobago over the weekend and the early part of next week,” Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said in response to questions on the preparations from Guardian Media during the ministry’s virtual press conference yesterday.

He indicated that the ministry is hoping to begin its campaign against the flu next week. But what could our flu season look like given the current fight against COVID-19?

“We expect that we have in place would have a similar effect on the cases of influenza added to which, it’s a vaccine-preventable disease. So we are trying to front-load our vaccine season in the sense that we’re trying to get a lot of vaccines out to the population early on in the season; October, November, December- so that we have people vaccinated earlier decreasing the susceptible load in the population,” Dr Parasram said.

However, he noted there was still some ambiguity as to how the influenza virus would interact with a population that’s already exposed to COVID-19.

“We don’t know what effect COVID-19 would have together with the influenza. That is something we have not yet seen in the world so far. So whether there would be an exacerbation of symptoms. We have seen some research that has pointed out persons can be infected with both at the same time,” Dr Parasram said.

This is why he urged members who are in the at-risk category for the viruses to get vaccinated early to avoid any unwanted outcomes.

The influenza virus within the population could lead to an uptick in COVID-19 testing as initial symptoms of both viruses closely resemble. Asked if the ministry would be able to ensure the testing mechanisms aren’t overburdened by such an increase, Dr Parasram said: “What we’re seeing at this point in time is anywhere between 600 to 700 being taken in one given day in the country. We have a capacity in our labs between 1200 and 1300 tests that can be done in a day as well. So we have some excess capacity by way of testing so we hope that that should be sufficient for now.”

He also indicated that additional capacity would be achieved when the rapid antigen test kits are introduced in the near future.