Aussies wary of double infection

flu virus

Most Australians want to be vaccinated against flu this year to prevent a double infection with COVID-19

New data from the Immunisation Coalition’s annual survey shows that 62% of Australians want their flu vaccine this year specifically to prevent a simultaneous infection with the coronavirus.

The survey data shows that 70% of people intend to get the flu shot “as soon as possible” or in April.

“Coronavirus and influenza are both dangerous on their own, but we now have two viruses that lead to respiratory infections spreading at once,” says Dr Rod Pearce, Chairman of the Immunisation Coalition.

The news follows calls from doctor groups, the Health Minister and the Pharmacy Guild for Australians to have their flu jabs as early as possible this year.

The Pharmacy Guild issued a statement on Tuesday telling Australians that pharmacies “stand ready” to vaccinate against influenza, though it asked people to be patient with their local pharmacy in cases where vaccine stocks have not yet been received or have been expended, saying more stock will flow through the supply chain in the coming days and weeks.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild, George Tambassis, said it was especially important for all Australians to be vaccinated against the flu this year – and to be vaccinated early.

“The ongoing COVID-19 crisis highlights how critical it is to remain as healthy as possible to have a stronger resistance to catching it, or to recover quickly if you do catch it,” he said.

“Australia is in the unenviable situation of having to deal with the crisis at a time of the year when we usually face the onset of the flu season.

“There is no vaccination for COVID-19 as yet, but there is for the flu and protecting yourself from this disease has never been more important. You need to remain as healthy as possible to reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.”

On Tuesday the Australian Medical Association’s national president, Dr Tony Bartone, reminded the public that while fears around COVID-19 are valid, “each year, thousands of Australians are admitted to hospitals with influenza complications, with around a thousand Australians dying from influenza in each of the past few years”.

“More than a quarter of a million cases of influenza were officially diagnosed last year. There is no real treatment for influenza, with antivirals limiting the course of illness mildly,” he said.

“People who get the influenza vaccine now will be better protected from the serious prospect of having both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time.

“Influenza vaccine is the only safe, proven, and tested way of not becoming an influenza statistic.”

On Tuesday the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ national president, Dr Harry Nespolon, said that “this is not a normal [flu] season” and also urged early vaccination, except in the case of over-65s, who he encouraged to wait for the over-65 vaccine.

Dr Pearce agreed with these statements.

“We support the position of the RACGP and Minister Hunt’s call to book the influenza vaccination now,” he said.

Kim Sampson, CEO of the Immunisation Coalition, said that, “Self-isolation will help reduce the incidence of coronavirus infection and influenza”.

“However self-isolation is not a perfect strategy. The last thing people want is an infection of both viruses, so vaccination against influenza should be a priority.”

Mr Tambassis said the ease of access to pharmacies for flu vaccinations was an important element in building community immunity against the disease, but access to vaccines differs across jurisdictions.

National Immunisation Program vaccines for the vulnerable are available through pharmacy in some States and Territories, but not all, he highlighted, saying that the Guild would like to see this expanded to all jurisdictions as a matter of urgency. The Guild also supports a uniform minimum patient vaccination age of 10 years across all jurisdictions.

“The fact that pharmacists are most accessible of all health professionals is why governments across Australia quickly realised the value of having trained pharmacists authorised to vaccinate,” Mr Tambassis said.

“This has translated into huge numbers of people being vaccinated and while last year was a bad flu season, there is no doubt it would have been a lot worse if pharmacies were not on hand to help people protect themselves from the disease.”

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