While the government’s recent decision to fund two superior flu vaccinations for seniors is laudable, this is still a far cry from the far wider coverage Australia needs, the RACGP says.
Two new influenza vaccines, Fluad and Fluzone High Dose, will be made available free of charge for people aged 65 or over from April this year.
The College welcomed the stronger vaccines, but called on the government to fund influenza vaccination for all Australians, not just those older citizens.
The savings made in health bills and work productivity from broader flu vaccine coverage would far outweigh the cost of a government-subsided flu vaccination program, RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said.
Currently, the government funds around 4.5 million doses of flu vaccine annually for people who are eligible under the National Immunisation Program, which includes pregnant women, Indigenous Australians, older people and those with chronic illnesses.
Those who are not eligible for free flu vaccinations are charged between $11 and $20 a dose.
The government fast-tracked the inclusion of the two new vaccines in the program in response to last year’s horrific flu season, in which more 90% of the 1000 people who died of the flu were older than 65.
Fluad contains the MF-59 adjuvant, which is an additive that boosts the immune response, whereas Fluzone contains four times the amount of antigen of the standard-dose flu vaccine.
There have been no head-to-head studies comparing the efficacy of the two vaccines in older people, but both vaccines have similar side-effects and around 25% greater effectiveness compared with standard vaccines.
Older people would receive only one of the two vaccines.
Deciding between the vaccines was a matter of personal choice and availability, Professor Raina MacIntyre, the head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW, said.
Ensuring that staff in nursing homes were vaccinated and not bringing influenza into facilities was the next step towards protecting older people, Professor Paul Van Buynder, the chairman of the Immunisation Coalition, said.
The government’s chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, is currently investigating the possibility of making flu vaccination compulsory for all residential aged care workers.