Background: Influenza vaccination prevents people from influenza-related diseases and thereby mitigates the burden on national health systems when COVID-19 circulates and public health measures controlling respiratory viral infections are relaxed. However, it is challenging to maintain influenza vaccine services as the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to disrupt vaccination programmes in many countries during the 2020/21 winter. We summarise available recommendations and strategies on influenza vaccination, specifically the changes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods: We searched websites and databases of national and international public health agencies (focusing on Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa). We also contacted key influenza immunization focal points and experts in respective countries and organizations including WHO and ECDC.
Results: Available global and regional guidance emphasises the control of COVID-19 infection in immunisation settings by implementing multiple measures, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene practice, appropriate use of personal protective equipment by health care workers and establishing separate vaccination sessions for medically vulnerable people. The guidance also emphasises using alternative models or settings (eg, outdoor areas and pharmacies) for vaccine delivery, communication strategies and developing registry and catch-up programmes to achieve high coverage. Several novel national strategies have been adopted, such as combining influenza vaccination with other medical visits and setting up outdoor and drive through vaccination clinics. Several Southern Hemisphere countries have increased influenza vaccine coverage substantially for the 2020 influenza season. Most of the countries included in our review have planned a universal or near universal influenza vaccination for health care workers, or have made influenza vaccination for health care workers mandatory. Australia has requested that all workers and visitors in long term care facilities receive influenza vaccine. The UK has planned to expand the influenza programme to provide free influenza vaccine for the first time to all adults 50-64 years of age, people on the shielded patient list and their household members and children in the first year of secondary school. South Africa has additionally prioritised people with hypertension for influenza vaccination.
Conclusions: This review of influenza vaccination guidance and strategies should support strategy development on influenza vaccination in the context of COVID-19.