In less than a month, a combined influenza and coronavirus vaccination campaign will begin in the community. One of the main innovations is the Government and Ministry of Health recommendation that smokers under 60 years of age receive influenza vaccination, a measure introduced for the first time since 16 October. On Monday, health workers received a health notice identifying the groups targeted by both vaccines. Pulmonologists support that smokers are now considered at risk because, according to studies conducted, the effects of the flu are more severe in those who are habitual smokers.
However, in instructions sent to health workers in Valencia, the health department did not set any specific criteria for what types of smokers would be required to be vaccinated. Neither based on the amount of tobacco per day nor the number of years you have consumed it. It only talks about “smokers” in the section that mentions who the flu vaccine is recommended for. But since this immunization is already for the general population over the age of 60, as another point in the note also points out, the smoker prevalence also includes anyone who smokes and is younger than that age. “They, as well as minors receiving long-term acetylsalicylic acid treatment, are at greater risk of complications from influenza,” according to the Ministry of Health’s advice.
For experts, the risk is a certainty. Cruz González, president of the Valencian Pulmonary Society, said smokers “are at greater risk of flu complications, such as influenza pneumonia, which can be relatively severe, which is why they are classified as a risk group , to reduce the incidence of influenza,” he explained. “We know that the risk of tobacco is that it causes inflammation of the respiratory mucosa and worsens its function, so the virus can attack the mucosa, making it inflamed and causing complications,” the expert said.
To Gonzalez, it was surprising that authorities did not specify who it was targeting. “The age of the smoker is not so important, it is more important to determine the number of years they have smoked. A 50-year-old person may have been smoking for more than 30 years, and the biggest impact on them is the cumulative exposure to tobacco and how much exposure, which can lead to mucosal deterioration, “He said.
Cristina Martínez, a pulmonologist and coordinator of the field of environmental diseases at the Spanish Pulmonary Society, agrees that things should be more nuanced in this regard. “They don’t specify the amount of tobacco or the age range for vaccination, which doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “The positive side is that smokers can be connected to a health system that can provide advice about smoking and can diagnose diseases more related to tobacco that would otherwise go undiagnosed. In COVID-19, smokers are not Greater risk, but according to research, in influenza, smokers are at greater risk,” he stressed.
Health authorities hope to reduce cases of respiratory illnesses caused by influenza through this campaign, which aims to protect citizens between October and the end of March. “Any patient with a respiratory condition is at greater risk of developing respiratory complications, which is why they are classified as a risk group. Studies show that smokers are at increased risk, as are people with diabetes or any other chronic disease People do. “This is a risk associated with tobacco,” said Cruz-Gonzalez, who believes this group will be regularly required to get a flu shot in the coming years.
It’s worth remembering that this flu shot is a health recommendation and not an obligation for smokers, although experts do note that getting vaccinated is highly recommended regardless of how much you smoke. “People who smoke two cigarettes a day are already smokers, and any smoker is at greater risk for complications from the flu,” Gonzalez said. Cristina Martinez added: “Tobacco is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, neurological diseases, and they are at greater risk than other people for chronic diseases. That’s why they want to protect this group .”
The coordinator of the Spanish association assures that there are studies showing that “smokers are at greater risk of getting the flu, and in more severe forms”, although the reasons vary. “It’s hard to say why because there are thousands of substances in tobacco and it’s hard to pinpoint the cause with the compounds it contains, but the inflammatory response against the virus increases and you don’t lose the defense but you lose the response against the virus. “The virus is more serious. “Whereas symptoms may be minimal in non-smokers, they can be more severe in smokers.”