Flu rebound warning accompanies launch

Health Minister Greg Hunt receives his 2021 flu vaccine

Greg Hunt has launched this year’s National Flu Vaccination Program, as new data shows one in four Australians don’t think they need the jab

In a statement on Thursday, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that seasonal influenza vaccines are now available through community pharmacies and GP surgeries.

This year there is a “record” supply of the vaccine, he said, encouraging Australians to be immunised against the virus now, so that they are protected during the peak of the season, usually July to September.

“If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to call your GP, community pharmacy or other vaccination provider and organise your flu shot,” Mr Hunt told Australians.

“Whilst there have been record low cases of flu this year in Australia the timing, severity and length of the flu season varies year to year and it is not yet clear how hard influenza will hit Australians this year.”

This year there have been significant concerns about the uptake of the flu vaccine, with Pharmacy Guild Victorian president Anthony Tassone recently telling the AJP that it appears a significantly lower number of vaccines have been administered in 2021 compared to 2020.

As at 13 May 2021, 4.55 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccines have been administered and entered into the AIR this year – compared to more than 7.2 million doses for the same time last year.

Minister Hunt stressed that the COVID-19 vaccine does not protect against flu – and vice versa – and reiterated that Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advice is that there should be two weeks between the administration of the two vaccines.

“This year, more than 9.4 million doses of flu vaccine will be available through the NIP and state and territory government programs, with a total of more than 20 million doses available nationally,” he said.

“This is up from the total of 17.6 million doses available in 2020 and 13.2 million doses available in 2019.”

Sanofi Australia welcomed the news, saying the launch was a timely reminder that flu remains a threat.

It cited a recent nationwide survey commissioned by Sanofi Pasteur which showed that one in four Australians feel they do not need to get vaccinated against influenza this year due to increased hand hygiene and social distancing measures.

This complacency could result in a rebound influenza season unless more Australians receive an influenza vaccine ahead of winter, it warned.

Dr Iris Depaz, Medical Director at Sanofi Pasteur ANZ, said, “It’s vital Australians talk to their healthcare professional about influenza vaccination”.

“Australia’s success in controlling the transmission of both COVID-19 and influenza last year was due to the adoption of disease control measures as well as high influenza vaccination rates.

“This put the country in a good position, but we can’t let our guard down as we enter this year’s winter.”

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