Free flu vaccine for everyone. “From Saturday 26 November, the Lombardy Region will offer the flu vaccine free of charge to the entire Lombard population, therefore not only to the target categories such as children or the over 60s or at risk of disease”. This was announced by the president of the Lombardy Region, Attilio Fontana, and the Councilor for Welfare, Guido Bertolaso. “We took this decision – explains Fontana – following the latest bulletin of the InfluNet sentinel doctors”, which recorded as of November 13 “already one million and 180 thousand Italians affected by the flu, of which almost 390,000 in one week”.
A flu syndrome “which would present itself with respiratory symptoms of a certain severity, especially for the elderly, frail and children under 5”. Bertolaso underlines that “the ministerial circular provided that, at the end of the campaign, the Regions with stocks available could extend the offer of the vaccine to the entire population”. The Lombardy Region had set the end of the campaign for December 15th.
«Given the excellent results – explains Bertolaso - achieved compared to last year, 1,249,871 vaccinations carried out on November 21, against 1,051,000 in 2021, we decided to bring the offer forward to next Saturday, on the occasion of some vax days offered by the vaccination centers located throughout the area”. Vaccinations can be administered by general practitioners, paediatricians, pharmacies or vaccination centres. To book, you can ask your general practitioner or on the regional website.
One vaccine for 20 strains
Towards a universal influenza vaccine that makes annual flu shots a thing of the past because it can provide broad-spectrum protection against 18 influenza A and two influenza B strains.
Developed by scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the vaccine uses the same technology as the Pfizer and Moderna anti-covid vaccines, or messenger RNAs. According to reports in the journal Science, the vaccine was able to protect mice from 20 flu strains and defend them from serious illness and death even against infections with flu viruses other than those contained in the vaccine itself. Influenza is a seasonal disease and every winter the circulating strains are different, so every cold season it is necessary to undergo the vaccine, which is produced on the basis of an estimate of what will be the most circulating strains in a given flu season.
US experts, on the other hand, have composed a broad-spectrum vaccine, ad RNA, which contains the genetic instructions for producing as many as 20 different antigens from as many flu strains. Each RNA corresponds to a viral molecule (haemagglutinin) which changes from strain to strain. The vaccine is not designed to give sterilizing protection, i.e. to avoid the flu altogether, but to induce an immunological memory such as to reduce symptoms and severity, potentially even in the event of the appearance of a new flu strain with pandemic potential. Experts are currently organizing the start of clinical trials to see if the vaccine is safe and effective in humans.
Influenza and children: more and more cases in pediatric clinics and emergency rooms
«The situation on the flu front this year is quite complicated. In our geographical area it is very present among children and it was expected that this would be the case, because in the other hemisphere it had circulated a lot and had arrived earlier than expected. We are repeating the same dynamics. As a result” due to the high viral circulation “health facilities are also under pressure. Especially the emergency rooms. Ours too» at the Buzzi hospital in Milan «is experiencing this demanding situation: we closed the last 24 hours with 175 accesses».
To provide beraking latest news Salute with an update on the situation among children, in a metropolis like Milan, is Gian Vincenzo Zuccotti, dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the State University of Milan and director of Pediatrics and Pediatric Emergency Department of Asst Fatebenefratelli Sacco-hospital of the Vittore Buzzi children.
«Certainly the flu arrived earlier – analyzes the pediatrician – In past years we were used to having the peak close to the Christmas holidays or at the beginning of the following year. This year, on the other hand, it is much earlier and is in any case affecting a very large population – he explains – Mothers tell of halved or deserted classes in nursery schools, nursery schools, but also high schools, because many boys and children are affected by these forms “.
Al Buzzi «we are always a little besieged because, even without influence, we are always around 100 PS hits. But in an emergency room like ours, where many ambulances arrive for different problems, having so much flu obviously complicates things ». In addition to the flu, then, “the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is also circulating and therefore cases of bronchiolitis are also beginning to be recorded in the little ones. The result is that healthcare facilities are super busy. Obviously in the larger principals the phenomenon is even more widespread, but all the structures report the same difficulties and even finding available beds becomes complicated in this period ». (
Last year, recalls Zuccotti, «the flu circulated very little and RSV disease was prevalent – if not almost exclusively – so much so that more or less in this period we didn’t know where to put the young patients. We were emerging from lockdowns and closures and there had been a buildup of susceptible children. This year, on the other hand, it is the newborns” who are “and on the respiratory syncytial virus we have returned to a level of intensity comparable to other years, but not as high as last year”.
Now it is the critical mass of all viruses that makes the difference. «In terms of beds, we are always overcrowded – he explains – and unfortunately we are always looking for some structure that can take someone from our emergency room because we are unable to admit all those who need it. Many times, even this does not simplify the work: to cope with the increased demand for emergency rooms, you have to spend a lot of time finding beds and everything slows down the processes a bit”.
What forms do you see in the hospital? «Paradoxically we had important pneumonias even before the beginning of this wave of flu – explains the pediatrician – Pneumonia with fairly important and extensive outbreaks. There was a phase that lasted 2 or 3 weeks where we had quite a few cases, generally you don’t get that many in such a short time. Now we have ‘asthma-like’ respiratory forms, forms of flu that may become more complicated, bronchopneumonia mainly on a viral basis. Some patients can then be overinfected and therefore we also have some bacterial forms, but in general they are basically respiratory pathologies very often sustained by influenza viruses that require age-related hospitalization ». In fact, these are «relatively young children with dyspnea, who need to be supported even with a little oxygen, who find it difficult to feed themselves and require parenteral infusions. If last year the situation was decidedly much more important from an intensivist point of view because we had an exaggerated number of bronchiolitis, with patients who were all oxygen dependent, many with high flows, this year the picture remains challenging from a numerical point of view, because the there are many sick people. It’s been two months – first between gastroenteritis and then respiratory problems – that we’ve seen this intensity of increasing activity. In the end this year we will certainly exceed 30,000 emergency room visits in one year for the first time in our business. Before the pandemic we were settled at 25-26 thousand, then there was a slowdown and now a strong recovery”.
Advice for parents
No intense perfumes, temperatures in the house no higher than 19 degrees, fresh air, hand hygiene: a few steps to help children grappling with winter ailments. A brief handbook for parents is drawn up by the pediatrician Italo Farnetani, who invites us not to be frightened by the rise in cases of flu.
“In the first six years of life, all children must achieve what is defined as ‘immunological learning’ – he explains to beraking latest news Salute – that is, they must come into contact with various infectious agents, especially viruses and bacteria, get sick, learn to know them and manufacture the related antibodies that will remain for life. A child in the first 6 years of life must meet and know more than 40 of the approximately 500 infectious agents that make human beings ill. In practice, an under 6 will fall ill about 5 times a year, rising to 6 for the first two years of age, and may have a cough up to 100 days a year”.
«It is clear – analyzes the full professor of Pediatrics of the Ludes-United Campus of Malta University – that in the past two years the forms of prevention dictated by the anti-Covid legislation have also slowed down the spread of other infectious agents. And here’s what happened in these days: if the numbers up to the beginning of November were strongly influenced above all by weather and excellent climatic conditions, with the possibility of living outdoors more, the first cold days made people stay indoors more in home. The start of Christmas shopping, then, led to gatherings that facilitated the transmission of pathogens which were concentrated precisely in this first period, recovering the infections not contracted in previous years”.
Advice for parents? «They are largely the same as for Covid: it is important to open the windows at least an hour a day even in the coldest periods in order to favor the exchange of air – lists Farnetani – always put the radiator or any other space heating a very wet terry towel so that the evaporation humidifies the room. Excessively dry air, in fact, allows infectious agents to attach themselves to dust particles, weighed down by humidity instead they fall on the ground. We also remember that the respiratory system is covered by a veil of liquid which, if dried, causes a cough and does not exert its protective effect».
It is also important «to make the child drink – continues Farnetani – because water is the main natural mucolytic. I suggest not keeping perfumes or other odorous substances in the house, even if labeled as balsamic, because the smell could cause bronchospasm. The heating should not be kept too high, the temperature above 20 degrees becomes dangerous. And above all when the child has a fever it shouldn’t be covered too much, but on the contrary the bed and clothes should be lightened. This is because the high temperature produced by the body to defend itself, by killing infectious agents, must be able to disperse”.
Even if he is ill, continues the pediatrician, «the child can eat anything as long as he likes it, but it is important never to force him to eat. Hand sanitizing is also essential, an operation that we have all been persuaded to perform in times of Covid. It is a very positive routine because the hands, after the air we breathe, are the main vehicle for the transmission of infections”. Again on this front, he concludes, “also pay attention to used handkerchiefs and to touch objects with hands that have previously touched the eyes and nose, as eye, nasal and respiratory secretions in general are an important” source of contamination.