KUCHING: In preparation for a Covid-19-influenza double epidemic, a doctor has urged that a mass flu vaccination programme be promptly carried out statewide.
Dr Ashok Segar said that flu is in season and vaccinating target groups such as children, the elderly, and people with history of illnesses as well as frontliners would prevent the health system from being overwhelmed when the situation takes a turn for the worse.
“After months of Covid-19, the people are now suffering from pandemic fatigue and this is where the complacency seeps in — general denial and genuine fear all reinforce the delusion that if it’s the flu, it cannot be Covid-19.
“This creates a nightmare situation of an asymptomatic Covid-19 patient unknowingly seeding the community.
“The only way to resolve this is by doing mass flu vaccinations, but we can’t afford for all to be vaccinated — hence we vaccinate the target group,” he told New Sarawak Tribune in an exclusive interview today.
Dr Ashok said Sarawak now is in a unique position as it has been able to maintain a streak of zero Covid-19 local infection cases for an extended number of days, where its health resources are not strained due to any spike in local cases.
“We must maintain this by administering the flu vaccine to the public. For the children, we can vaccinate them in schools. The elderly and those susceptible can be vaccinated during their routine check-ups and medical appointments.
“For frontliners, they can be vaccinated at their workplace — a doctor can come and administer the vaccine to the group.
“Everyone in the army and police, as well as medical workers, needs to be vaccinated for the flu so when they meet sick people, they themselves will not get sick and bring the virus home,” he said.
The physician said with the target group being vaccinated, it would help in isolating Covid-19 cases in the state as with flu symptoms being nullified by the flu vaccine, the ones who are still having flu can be identified as having contracted Covid-19.
“If someone still has the flu after being administered the flu vaccine, then they must see a doctor for treatment.
“If there are no mass flu vaccinations, the doctors would diagnose the patient who has flu symptoms as having upper-tract respiratory infection instead. Doctors themselves are not infallible,” he said.
Dr Ashok urged that the Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Ministry take the lead in conducting mass flu vaccination programmes as the target group falls under its purview.
“I think they must be proactive to prevent this nightmarish scenario. I am not saying that it is going to happen, but we must prepare for it so that it doesn’t happen” he said.
He added once the flu season hits, it would be difficult to differentiate the cases of Covid-19 and flu.
“If a Covid-19 patient spreads the virus around, it would be difficult for us to trace it as there will be so many flu cases, how will we be able to tell which one has the flu and which has Covid-19?
“The entire medical system will collapse simply because the system will not be able to cope with it,” he said.
Dr Ashok said while there is no vaccine for Covid-19, the next best thing is to ensure that no one contracts upper respiratory tract infection which might be mistaken for Covid-19.
“We must take prompt action and we cannot afford to wait, it is already September. By the time we are injecting people, it will be October and then November. That means by January, February and March next, we could be overwhelmed with flu cases,” he said.
He added that while the matters of public health are under the jurisdiction of the federal government, the social wellbeing aspect of Sarawakians is within the purview of the state government.
“Until the federal government gives us grants and other things, nothing will happen. Social wellbeing is under our control and let us take steps to prevent it from happening.
“We can be the world leaders in showing them how to handle Covid-19 because we prevented a flu epidemic and by doing so, we can save thousands of lives which otherwise might be lost to Covid-19,” he said.
The physician said the onus is on the state government to heed the warning of an eventual perfect storm that a flu epidemic brings to the table.
“We can see how difficult it is to diagnose Covid-19 and we can also see foreign countries like the United States of America which have not been able to cope with the pandemic,” he said.
Dr Ashok added that the resources are not infinite, and in the case of the United States, the nation had used up resources to curb the flu epidemic instead of Covid-19.
“Whatever resources we have, we will run out of it if there is a flu epidemic as every patient that has the flu will be tested for Covid-19, so a test will be wasted as it is not used on a Covid-19 patient.
“The vaccine that we have now is the flu vaccine and we must use it to the best that we can. We cannot wait and see, we are simply running out of time,” he said.