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‘Now’s the time’: Australians urged to get flu and COVID shots as cases rise

Australians are being urged to get their booster shots, with COVID-19 and influenza cases rising as the country heads into winter.

The number of notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza has increased across Australia in the first two weeks of May, and the week to May 23 saw an average of 5884 COVID cases reported per day – part of a steady daily increase since February.

With many Australians not going to the doctor to get officially tested for flu or COVID, the number of infections is likely to be much higher than reported.

Catherine Bennett, Deakin University’s chair in epidemiology, told The New Daily that Australia experienced a spike in flu and COVID cases in April, thanks to travellers importing the northern hemisphere’s winter outbreaks.

Now the country is heading towards an early winter peak.

Of most concern is the fact that people have decreased immunity to the flu after avoiding infection over the past few years, thanks to pandemic measures.

Get boosted to ride out the wave

Australians who haven’t had a COVID booster this year are also at higher risk of more severe symptoms if they catch the virus.

“The boosters don’t last forever. You get your best effect from them in the first month or two. And, of course, that’s going to take us into the depths of winter,” Dr Bennett said.

“So now’s the time; if eligible people are thinking about having a booster who haven’t had it, and then reaching that point six months since their last infection, it might help them get through winter less impacted by COVID.”

Australia has been successful in transitioning into living with COVID, aided by the large-scale hybrid immunity from people who have been vaccinated against COVID and have previously tested positive.

But the full effects of long COVID still aren’t known, and people who are immuno-compromised and over the age of 60 are strongly at risk of developing severe symptoms if they contract the virus.

Dr Bennett recommended that people who fall into one of these groups should pursue subsidised COVID anti-virals as soon as they start showing COVID symptoms.

How to avoid infection

Being mindful of your distance from others, wearing a mask on crowded public transport and in hospital settings, and airing out your home prior to and after receiving visitors are all methods that could help keep you virus-free this winter.

Although misinformation over vaccines still abounds, they provide a “remarkable” reduction in risk of infection, Dr Bennett said.

Analysis two months after a second dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine found it was 95 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID, while flu vaccinations prevent illness in up to six in 10 healthy adults under the age of 65.

“People who just want to avoid an infection, or have more mild symptoms if they have an infection – now’s the time to think about [getting a booster],” Dr Bennett said.

“Because when you’re definitely seeing those case numbers rise, it’s the time [a booster] gives you that best protection for the next one to two months – that should see you through the other side of the wave.”

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