Flu vaccination down

Judy Plunkett administering a flu vaccination
Judy Plunkett administering a flu vaccination.

One stakeholder has warned against apathy about the flu vaccine this year, as the TGA outlines the 2021 variants in the jab

In this week’s edition of Pharmacy Guild newsletter Forefront, national executive director Suzanne Greenwood writes that with COVID-19 still posing a threat, “the need to be vaccinated against the flu is more important than ever”.

“For many of us, however, the importance of the flu shot has been somewhat lost in the understandable interest of when and where we can get our COVID-19 vaccination,” Ms Greenwood writes.

“The latest data from the Australian Immunisation Register is concerning and shows doses of the flu vax administered so far this season total 654,565 doses, compared with 2,339,287 for the same time last year.

“Disturbingly, I have heard of people putting off getting their flu shot until they can book in for their COVID-19 vaccination.

“This doesn’t make sense as the flu season is already upon us.”

She notes that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s advice on seasonal flu vaccines this year are that people in phase 1a for COVID-19 vaccination should receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to them, and then receive their influenza vaccine; while people in later phases for COVID-19 vaccination should receive their influenza vaccine as soon as it is available, and then receive their COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them.

“The majority of Australians who are not currently eligible for their COVID-19 vaccination until Phase 2 should now get their flu vaccination,” writes Ms Greenwood.

“This becomes our key message to all our patients: while you are waiting to get your COVID-19 vaccination, come into your local pharmacy and get your flu shot.”

She warns that the Guild has received feedback, and seen on social media, that many people do not believe they need a flu vaccine this year.

“But each vaccine is very specific and cannot be substituted for the other,” she says.

“This lack of consumer engagement of the need for the flu shot is in stark contrast to the effectiveness of the flu vaccine itself.

“Last year, people were concerned about their wellness, practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing but with no COVID-19 vaccine available, people still got their flu vaccine, and it kept the incidence of influenza down.

“The Immunisation Coalition monitors flu cases and reports there were 21,356 laboratory-confirmed notifications of the flu in Australia for 2020, compared with 313,061 laboratory-confirmed notifications for 2019.

“We won the war against flu in 2020, but has that created some apathy in 2021?”

The RACGP has also spoken out about the vaccine’s timing.

“We are urging patients in later phases for the COVID-19 vaccine to get their flu shot as soon as it is available, and then get their COVID-19 vaccine when they can, said RACGP president Dr Karen Price.

“If you’re young and healthy you might think you should be standing back and waiting for the most vulnerable patients to get their flu shots first.

“In fact, we want these patients to do the opposite.”


This year’s strains

On Tuesday the TGA issued advice about the strains included in this year’s flu vaccines.

While some pharmacies will already have received stock and begun vaccinating, the TGA issued advice that there is a new A (H1N1)-like virus strain and a new A (H3N2)-like virus strain when compared to the composition of quadrivalent vaccines for Australia in 2020.

The egg-based quadrivalent influenza vaccines contain the following four viral strains:

  • an A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Hong Kong/2671/2019 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • a B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus; and
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus.

The composition of trivalent influenza vaccines is recommended to include the H1N1, H3N2 and the B Victoria lineage virus.

Cell-based quadrivalent influenza vaccines contain the following four viral strains:

  • an A/Wisconsin/588/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Hong Kong/45/2019 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • a B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus; and
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus.

The TGA highlighted ATAGI advice that routine scheduling and giving of an influenza vaccine with a COVID-19 vaccine on the same day is not recommended.

The preferred minimum interval between a dose of seasonal influenza vaccine and a dose of BNT162b2 (Pfizer) or ChAdOx1-S (AstraZeneca) is 14 days.

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