25 November 2021

Don’t forget flu

Clinical Communicable Disease COVID-19 Public Health

An Australian infectious diseases expert warns we are "due for trouble in 2022".

Just when things were starting to look up, an Australian infectious diseases expert warns we are “due for trouble in 2022”.

But the dire prediction is not about covid for a change. Professor Robert Booy from the Immunisation Coalition is talking about the flu. Common garden-variety but potentially deadly influenza.

Remember the flu?

As Professor Booy says in a recent public health message, we haven’t seen much of it since the international borders closed back in March 2020. In fact we’ve had two very, very (almost non-existent) flu seasons courtesy of our isolation and infection control measures.

Flu definitely took a backseat to covid and as a consequence 2021 was a poor year in terms of getting the flu vaccine.

“People were so busy getting themselves covid vaccinated they didn’t get their flu jab”, Professor Booy explained.

So here we are with a significant proportion of people vulnerable to the flu courtesy of a lack of both natural and vaccine-mediated immunity. As the international borders open up we are, in fact sitting ducks for a big flu season. And the professor predicts it is likely to come earlier than usual – quite possibly around December or January.

But it’s not all bad news.

“Flu hasn’t been transmitting so it hasn’t been mutating,” Professor Booy says. He predicts, the flu strains that are likely to come into the community are probably going to be much the same as those that were circulating previously – when our last flu vaccine was developed.

In a nutshell, all those unused but still in-date flu vaccines currently taking up space in GP vaccine fridges around the country are likely to still be effective. They are still worthwhile giving to patients, especially those who are most at risk from flu – the elderly and the chronically ill.

Professor Booy encourages GPs to ensure all their eligible patients, particularly the most vulnerable to get the flu vaccine now. Don’t wait until we get the highly likely surge in flu cases.

It would be a terrible shame for Australia to survive covid so relatively well compared to the rest of the world to then succumb to a major flu outbreak.

Watch Professor Robert Booy’s CSA here.

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