Influenza Outbreak: Drugs, Vaccines Must Be Supplied Promptly

The number of people infected with seasonal influenza is gradually increasing. There have been reports that a surge in the number of infections may come earlier than usual this year — vigilance is required.

More than 54,000 influenza cases have already been reported across the nation, surpassing the government’s alert level. By prefectures, patient numbers have been rising particularly in Okinawa and areas such as Chiba and Saitama.

During the three years when the novel coronavirus proliferated in Japan, there was no major influenza outbreak within the nation. However, influenza began spreading at the end of last year and is set to become a full-blown seasonal phenomenon again, with no containment seen in the spring and summer. This is an unusual situation.

It is advisable for elderly people and others at high risk of developing serious symptoms to consider early vaccination against the disease.

The latest outbreak began in around September, coinciding with the new school term when events such as sports festivals and cultural festivals are held. As such, people within younger generations may wish to be vaccinated at an early stage.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has reportedly secured more vaccines compared to previous years. Inoculations began this month, and it is hoped that supplies will be made promptly available to allow people to be vaccinated without delay.

Meanwhile, the government has reduced the volume of its purchases of COVID-19 vaccines, and there have been delays in the vaccination process. Although cases of infection are currently decreasing, it is essential to prepare for the winter season. Additional purchases should be made at the appropriate time to alleviate the concerns of people who wish to receive the vaccine.

Cases of pharyngoconjunctival fever — which thrives among children and is colloquially referred to as “pool fever” — have reached an unusual high. Immunity to diseases has decreased due to the implementation of measures against COVID-19, while the recovery in the influx of overseas visitors has made it easier for infectious maladies to spread simultaneously.

People must be especially cautious in the coming season, when the temperature drops and the air becomes drier. It is advised to take thorough precautions such as avoiding crowded places and resting when feeling under the weather.

The growing shortage of medicines is a cause for concern.

In a survey conducted by the Japan Medical Association, many medical institutions reported shortages of certain drugs, with cough suppressants and phlegm-related treatments topping the list.

This is likely due to a surge in demand caused by the spread of infectious diseases, and the fact that since 2020, a number of drugmakers have been forced to suspend operations due to quality-control issues with generic drugs. The government must increase its efforts to encourage the industry to increase production.

Frontline medical services, too, should devise ways to improve medicinal dispensation. One effective measure may be to minimize the number of prescriptions for minor symptoms. It is also important for medical institutions and pharmacies to share information and utilize drugs that are relatively well-stocked.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 23, 2023)