The flu settles in France. A “increase in all indicators” of the seasonal epidemic was observed last week, reported Public Health France, Wednesday, November 23. Brittany, in the “pre-epidemic” phase for two weeks, is now joined by Centre-Val de Loire, Hauts-de-France, Ile-de-France and Normandy.
If the number of cases is still low, this early start of the epidemic worries the medical world and the health authorities. Especially since the vaccination campaign has been delayed. Started on October 18 for fragile people and certain professionals, then open to all since November 15, it has come up against the weariness of the French in particular.
How many French people are vaccinated?
Vaccination against seasonal influenza is experiencing a “significant delay” compared to last year, alerted the two main unions of pharmacists. A little over a month after the launch of the campaign, just over 7.5 million doses had been distributed on Tuesday, November 22, against 9.4 million last year at the same stage. That is a drop of 20%, according to figures from the company specializing in health data IQVIA, collected from two-thirds of French pharmacies. All these doses have not yet been injected. “Four million people are vaccinated, compared to 5 million at the same time last year”down 20% over one year, reported last week, Dominique Martin, medical adviser to the National Health Insurance Fund, interviewed by Le Figaro.
“It’s a bit of a disaster this year”, insists Philippe Besset, president of the Federation of Pharmaceutical Unions of France (FSPF), the first union in the profession. Especially since this decline mainly concerns “priority” audiences, including people aged 65 and over, the chronically ill, patients with obesity or even pregnant women. Seniors alone account for two-thirds of the decline observed. For Philippe Besset, it will be “very difficult” to make up for this “delay”unless one “important communication campaign”.
How to explain this delay?
After almost three years of the Covid-19 epidemic, the president of the Federation of Pharmaceutical Unions of France point one “general tiredness” of the population towards vaccination, “even in those for whom it is necessary”. An analysis shared by Pierre-Olivier Variot, president of the Union of Unions of Community Pharmacists (USPO), who mentions on franceinfo a “some weariness” and the hope shared by many patients to be able to benefit from a “double vaccine”, which would protect against both seasonal flu and Covid-19. At this stage, two injections are still necessary, even if it is possible to do them simultaneously, one in each arm.
The delay would also be due to the early fall weather, “which was relatively lenient and which did not suggest that the flu was coming”, according to the president of the USPO. The vaccination schedule may also need to be reviewed, according to the union, which pleads for an earlier campaign to “stick to the receipt of vaccination vouchers”, aimed at priority audiences. This would allow people to immediately have the reflex to go get vaccinated, instead of putting the vouchers away and forgetting them in a drawer.
Traditionally, France was already not a good student of flu vaccination. “WHO recommendations are 75% of the target population” vaccinated, recalled the Minister of Health, François Braun, in mid-November. “For several years, we have been below”he lamented.
Should we be worried about it?
The emerging epidemic is “virulent”warned the Minister, François Braun. “We expect the flu epidemic to be quite virulent”confirms the president of the USPO, relying on the flu “much more violent” observed in recent months in the southern hemisphere. This “premature and particularly intense epidemic” expected in France could affect French people who are more vulnerable than usual, due to timid vaccination and low exposure to the virus during the Covid years. “It’s been two years since the flu was almost non-existent”thanks to barrier gestures, or “these reflexes tend to disappear”recalls Pierre-Olivier Variot.
The concern is already spreading in the hospital. “We have to prepare to welcome a large number of patients”warns the president of the French Hospital Federation, Arnaud Robinet, in The Parisian. However, the healthcare system is already facing an epidemic of bronchiolitis in babies, on an unprecedented scale for many years, and the persistent pressure of Covid-19, for which hospitalizations have rebounded for a week.
“We can’t afford to have a triple epidemic.”Arnaud Robinet, President of the FHF
in “The Parisian”
This situation of “triple epidemic” has already taken hold in the United States, where flu-related hospitalizations have reached their highest level in a decade. “In this context, it is strongly recommended that people at risk and healthcare professionals get vaccinated against seasonal flu without delay”recalls Public Health France.
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