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FLASHBACK Ms. Grace Sookchand, Manager of the Expanded Programme of Immunization with the Ministry of Health, administers a flu shot to a young family member of the PAHO/WHO staff as part of the flu vaccination exercise for UN staff at the PAHO/WHO Building, 10-12 Sweet Briar Road.

The Ministry of Health is again appealing to citizens to take the vaccine for influenza viruses to prevent a “double-barrel” respiratory illness season.

Speaking on CNC3’s the Morning Brew on Wednesday, manager of the Extended Immunization Programme Nurse Grace Sookchand said vaccines for the H1N1 and the H3N2 viruses are updated yearly as the viruses tend to mutate and change throughout every flu season.

She said the virus can be very deadly, as she revealed statistics from the 2019 flu season.

“The World Health Organisation has estimated that every year over 500,000 persons die from influenza, that is how serious it is,” she said.

She said during the last flu season, 40 people died locally from influenza.

Sookchand said the vaccines should cover about 40 to 60 per cent of the population from contracting the viruses.

But she said some who take the vaccine will still develop mild symptoms.

Sookchand noted that there was still no vaccine for the COVID-19 virus as she warned citizens that they could be deathly ill if they contract both COVID and influenza at the same time.

“We are very aware of the fact that you can now have what is termed double-barrel respiratory virus season where persons who get the influenza virus could also get COVID-19 so can you imagine the impact on the person who has the H1N1 and then gets COVID-19.”

She said taking the influenza vaccines can also aid in diagnosing COVID-19.

“If you develop flu-like symptoms it is easier for the health care provider to say you had your influenza vaccine so let’s start looking at COVID-19 so you limit the time you would waste looking for H1N1, H3n2 because you know that person is covered.”

She said the ministry was trying to ensure that the health care system was not overwhelmed by cases of COVID-19 and influenza.

Sookchand said the high-risk group- which includes pregnant women, children from six months to five years old, elderly people over 65-years-old, those with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), people with respiratory ailments such as asthma and frontline workers- were especially vulnerable to the influenza viruses and should ensure they are vaccinated.

She said since the flu season started, the ministry has distributed 30,000 vaccines to various health centres across the country but to date, only 8,000 people have come forward to be vaccinated.

“It shows that people are not accessing it at the rate we would like it to happen so we are encouraging people to come out and get the vaccines, we do have public health guidelines in place to protect those who come out to get the vaccine,” she said.

Sookchand said vaccines are available at all health centres from Monday to Friday.

If you need more information on the vaccine, you can visit the ministry’s website at health.gov.tt.