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Influenza Alert: Millions of Thais at Risk! Will the Government Provide Free Vaccinations?

In a revealing report released by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health in 2023, a staggering figure of over 300,000 Thais were found to have been besieged by the influenza virus. And unbeknownst to many, specialists are of the cogent belief that the digits might rise to a shocking one million annually due to the non-stop manifestation of the virus. A clear risk is observed in the unimmunized populace who are susceptible to recurring bouts of flu, and as expected, the elderly, beset with diverse health issues, are particularly prone to severe flu-related illnesses or, in worst cases, death. The Influenza Foundation of Thailand has issued a strong call to the government imploring the provision of free influenza vaccines to citizens above the age of 65, with considerations to be extended to school children who pose a strong risk of being disease transmitting vectors.

Offering insightful commentary, Associate Professor Tawee Chotpitayasunondh, the President of the Influenza Foundation (Thailand), maintains that influenza, being a seasonal ailment, has seen a decrease in cases since the Coronavirus outbreak due to rigorous preventive measures. However, this has inadvertently made people less immune to the flu, creating cause for concern. He revealed startling figures from Ministry of Public Health’s January-October 2023 report showing that over 300,000 individuals were attacked by influenza, with 21 turning fatal. Sadly, these numbers are merely the tip of the iceberg as many more were infected without requiring hospital admission. The disturbing trend suggests that by the end of 2023, we may see a million people locked in a battle with the flu virus – a cause for serious alarm.

“Influenza exhibits a distinct pattern of outbreak in Thailand, starkly contrasting countries situated in the temperate climates such as the US, parts of European countries, Japan, or Korea. While the flu there is seasonal in nature, peaking in winter and virtually disappearing in the warmer months, Thailand, situated in the tropics, has a consistent presence of flu throughout the year. The monsoon season witnesses a spike in flu cases stemming from high humidity, increased close contact in enclosed confines, and the commencement of school semesters – factors that contribute to a surge in flu transmission within familial units,” Associate Professor Tawee explained.

A research focused on the economic implications of influenza-related hospital admissions in Thailand revealed that the direct cost for annual flu treatment stood at 1.1 billion THB, with an additional indirect loss of business/work opportunities, amounting to 1.3 billion THB. In essence, the total annual cost of the flu in Thailand amounted to a whopping 2.4 billion THB – a grim indicator of why influenza vaccinations top the list of the most cost-effective measures for flu prevention.

Professor Sasisopin Kiertiburanakul, Chief Division of Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, divulged that the aged are prone to influenza due to diminishing immunity, co-existing health conditions, and malnourishment, thus reinforcing the urgency of flu vaccination amongst the elderly. The benefits of vaccination are manifold, contributing to reduced symptoms, reduced pulmonary inflammation, and a minimized risk of hospitalization and mortality.

In conclusion, Associate Professor Tawee emphasized the importance of timely vaccinations and strongly recommended that people should take the jab as soon as the new influenza vaccine rolls out, preferably between April and May, as long as there is a minimum gap of six months between the last vaccination. This way, there are better prospects of reducing both the health and economic impacts of the flu among the populace.

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