30 March 2020

Don’t rush flu jabs, give them as normal

Clinical Communicable Disease Public Health Vaccination

Seasonal flu vaccinations should continue to be offered, like previous years, from mid-April 2020 to offer best protection against influenza, the Department of Health has advised.

This is despite panicky patients, who are requesting the vaccine earlier this year, in the misguided hope it could offer some protection against COVID-19.

The quadrivalent vaccine has been available for order since last week across GP practices and pharmacies.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health told The Medical Republic that vaccinating patients from mid-April would provide optimal protection against the peak period of influenza between June and September.

“While protection from influenza vaccination is generally expected to last for the whole season, optimal protection against influenza occurs within the first three to four months following vaccination,” the department said.

The Department of Health said flu vaccines funded under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), including to GPs and other vaccination providers, would be available from mid-April, subject to vaccine supply arrangements.

The patients eligible for a NIP subsided vaccine include:

  • All people aged six months to less than five years (this cohort is newly eligible in 2020)
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over
  • Pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy)
  • All people aged 65 years and over
  • People aged six months and over with medical conditions which increase the risk of influenza disease complications

All other patients, who were not subsidised for the influenza vaccine under the NIP, would be able to receive private market vaccines from as early as late March, the department said.

Dr John Hall, President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said it was important to remind patients the flu vaccine was not a vaccine for COVID-19, but could protect against the flu.  

“You really don’t want to come down with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time – that would be a perfect storm – so getting the flu vaccination this year really is a must,” he said.

Dr Hall said that given the health system was already going to be overstretched in the months ahead, patients who received the flu vaccine would be less likely to become another influenza patient that had to attend their already busy doctor or local health service.

Not to mention that getting flu this season and having to attend the doctor could put them at risk of contracting coronavirus while in the waiting room, Dr Hall said.

“Over the coming weeks, there may be a need to vaccinate health providers and the elderly as a priority. We are sure the wider community will understand why that needs to be done, given current circumstances,” he said.

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