Australians are substantially under-vaxxed ahead of a major flu season

Australians are being urged to get the flu shot ahead of winter.

Australians are being urged to get the flu shot ahead of winter. Photo: AAP

Only 35 per cent of Australians aged 18 to 64 plan on getting a flu shot this year, according to a new survey conducted by the Immunisation Coalition.

This statistic has health authorities worried as a bumper flu season looms.

“There’s a good chance that we will have at least a moderate season and perhaps a bad season,” Professor Robert Booy from the Immunisation Coalition told The New Daily.

“No one’s got a crystal ball. We can’t say for sure. But the numbers are rising.

“We haven’t had any serious flu in Australia for two-and-a-half years, and the vaccination rates against flu are substandard – they’re not as good as they used to be.”

Professor Booy said many Australians already lack a natural influenza immunity since so few people caught it over the past two years of the pandemic, and added that many people coming home from the northern hemisphere will likely bring the disease with them.

That’s why he’d like to see influenza vaccination rates jump to at least 70 per cent.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the WHO’s influenza team is anticipating a “significant epidemic outbreak” in NSW, while Victorian authorities are already urging people to get jabbed.

“Victoria has seen low rates of the flu over the last two years due to closed international borders and social distancing measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Friday.

“That also means that this winter is a really critical time to be protected with flu vaccinations.”

The flu poses a different kind of risk

Flu cases and flu-related deaths climb every winter, but because these statistics aren’t published like COVID deaths are, it can be easy to forget about the risk flu season poses.

“Flu was more serious in children than COVID and on average, in Australia, we have 3000 deaths [across all age groups] each winter,” said Professor Booy, who is an infectious diseases paediatrician.

“So it’s not to be taken lightly.”

In 2017 and 2018, around 15 per cent of children admitted to hospital with influenza required intensive care.

“There is a large cohort of children under the age of five who will either have never been exposed, or have had little exposure to influenza in the past two to three years,” said Karen Booth, president of the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association.

“They will be at high risk of catching the virus if not vaccinated. Little kids carry big bugs and can readily pass the virus on to vulnerable family and friends.”

Children aren’t the only people who are particularly vulnerable during flu season.

Elderly people, immunocompromised people, and those with chronic conditions like heart disease or lung disease are also at increased risk.

Then there’s the chance of catching influenza and COVID-19 – the dreaded ‘flurona’.

“If you were to catch the flu and COVID at the same time, it doubles your risk of dying from the combination infection, so it’s worth being vaccinated against both,” Professor Booy said.

Health authorities have amended their advice on spacing out the two shots after studies showed co-administration of the COVID and influenza vaccines is safe and produces a good immune response.

“If you’re over 65, you could get the COVID vaccine in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other,” Professor Booy said.

Topics: Vaccination
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