Half don’t plan to get flu vaccine: Guild

Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.
Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.

The Guild is encouraging Australians to take flu seriously and get vaccinated, as it reveals half of Australian adults don’t plan to do so this year

Despite the severity of the 2017 flu season, in which more than 249,000 laboratory confirmed influenza notifications were made, many people still misunderstand the flu and how serious it is, says Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis.

“Most Australians don’t realise how infectious the flu is, with 77% of respondents unaware the flu virus can remain active when airborne for 45 minutes or more,” Mr Tambassis said while unveiling the results of the Guild’s 2018 Vaccination Study.

“Our research showed more than half (57%) of Australian adults mistakenly consider themselves to be at low risk of contracting the flu.

“Flu vaccinations promote community immunity, whereby if enough people are vaccinated against the infection, they can help protect those unable to be vaccinated, including immunocompromised/sick, or very young infants.”

Last year was the first year trained community pharmacists countrywide could administer the flu vaccine to adults.

The 2018 Flu Vaccination study shows that already Australians are coming to understand the benefits of having a jab in pharmacy, citing convenience (45%), cost (35%) and time related to appointment scheduling and clinic wait times (39%).

The Guild’s research also found that:

  • 43% of adult survey respondents were vaccinated in 2017: almost 8 million Australians.
  • This increased to 46% among those aged 50-69, but dropped to 29% of millennials (aged 18-34).
  • Only 45% of survey respondents plan to get vaccinated against flu this year.
  • Self-perceived risk influences one’s intention to vaccinate; most adult respondents who did not get vaccinated last year (68%) considered themselves to be at low risk of getting flu.
  • 74% of those who thought they were at high risk of getting flu plan to be vaccinated, but only 34% of those who feel they are low risk plan to do so.
  • Nationwide, 13% of Australian adults received their flu shot in pharmacy last year – just over a million people.

The survey found that up to 43% of people did not understand the need for an annual flu shot in providing optimal protection against the virus, though this number increased to 67% among baby boomers.

One in five – 17% – of those who were not vaccinated last year are convinced a healthy lifestyle will protect them from the flu; 69% said they feel it is unhealthy to “have germs around the house” and try to keep their homes clean.

Only 13% of adult survey respondents understand that the flu virus can remain alive on a hard surface for longer than eight hours.

NSW pharmacist and Guild National Councillor, Catherine Bronger said that “We must do more to heighten public awareness of both the importance of protecting against flu and the risk posed to everyone, including the fit and healthy”.

Around 3,000 Australians die from the flu in an average year and around 18,000 are hospitalised.

While an increased number of deaths were reported in 2017, most of the deaths occurred in the elderly, which is consistent with years when influenza A(H3N2) circulates.

The median age of deaths reported in notified cases during the flu season just past was 86 years (range: 3 to 107 years), with more than 91% of deaths in people aged 65 years and older.

Impacts of the flu season other than mortality include high levels of absenteeism and a substantial burden on primary care and hospitals.

The Guild’s figures come at a time when doctor groups are attacking pharmacist flu vaccination, claiming that March vaccination may put Australians at “serious risk” and slamming pharmacy for charging to vaccinate people who can, but do not, avail themselves of a free vaccine at the GP via the NIP.

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