Let us vaccinate you, says Guild

The flu virus.
The flu virus.

Nearly one in 10 Australians hospitalised with flu are admitted to intensive care, the Guild warns, as researchers parents susceptible to anti-vaccination messaging from politicians

The Pharmacy Guild is encouraging Australians to be vaccinated against flu this year, highlighting the potential severity of the disease.

The Guild is pointing out that in 2018’s flu season, 5,800 adults were admitted to hospital with the disease, and 9.4% of those aged under 65 required intensive care.

There have been 19,000 reported flu cases in Australia already this calendar year, says national president George Tambassis.

Australia must build community immunity through vaccination, he warns.

“While there are people at high risk of the flu, including those aged 65 and above, the flu can in fact strike anyone, even the young, fit and healthy,” he told consumers.

“In fact, one in four people who are hospitalised with the flu have no underlying medical condition.”

Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone said that research has shown that among adults hospitalised with the flu, those vaccinated against the virus were 59% less likely to be admitted to ICU than those who were not.

“Furthermore, among adults confined to ICU with the flu, those who were vaccinated were discharged from hospital an average of four days earlier than those who were not vaccinated”, Mr Tassone said.

“There still remains however, a level of complacency within the community with regard to annual flu vaccination, with one in four Australian adults mistakenly thinking they do not need a flu shot8 because they think the virus won’t strike them.”

Around one million flu vaccines were distributed to local pharmacies across Australia last year, with more vaccines expected to be distributed this year.

“Record numbers of Australians were vaccinated against the flu last year, with local pharmacies playing an important role in this public health achievement,” Mr Tassone said.

The Guild pointed out that at APP, Health Minister Greg Hunt praised the role played by pharmacists in “saving lives and protecting lives” through expanded community pharmacy vaccination services: 2017 saw 1,150 Australians lose their lives to the flu.

In 2018, this number dropped by 90% to just over 100 people.

Mr Tambassis told consumers that there were many benefits to being vaccinated in pharmacy, including “convenience, cost and the minimal time required to schedule an appointment”.


Anti-vaccination messaging

Meanwhile, a new study by researchers at UNSW Sydney found that most Australian parents are susceptible to influence by vaccine messages from political and medical leaders.

Lead author Elissa Zhang, a medical student from UNSW Medicine, said the study uncovered important data about a “silent majority” of parents who are susceptible to vaccine messages from political and medical leaders.

“We measured the vaccination views of participants before and after viewing vaccine messages from medical and political leaders.

“For this study, we showed over 400 Australian parents of children under five years negative vaccine-related messages from the United States President Donald Trump and Australian Senator Pauline Hanson. A positive vaccine message was shown from former Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon,” said Ms Zhang. 

Prior to viewing the messages, only 2% of respondents had fixed anti-vaccination views, and more than 20% had fixed pro-vaccination views. These parents with fixed positive or negative views on vaccination did not change their views after hearing messages from public figures. 

However the remaining 76% – who generally accepted vaccination – were susceptible to having their views influenced by these public figures.

When the researchers measured participant views after viewing the video, the group who expressed a general acceptance of vaccination were over twice as likely compared to ‘fixed-view’ parents to report increased vaccine hesitancy after viewing negative vaccine messages. Positive messages from Dr Gannon did not significantly increase hesitancy. 

Senior author, Professor Raina MacIntyre of the Kirby Institute, said that this study looked at parental attitudes to vaccination through a different lens than other researchers.

“We defined a silent majority of parents who are susceptible to be influenced by political leaders who voice views on vaccination.  

“Research has previously focused only on the margins of a spectrum of parents, investing in health promotion directed at a small vaccine-hesitant group at the fringe. What we showed is that the large group of parents in the middle of the spectrum are susceptible to vaccine messaging from public figures, and we must not take their acceptance of vaccines for granted.  

“We tend to focus our resources on health promotion only for vaccine hesitant parents, but should not forget parents who do vaccinate. They are also important for health promotion. We also reiterate the importance of medical leaders countering anti-vaccination messaging and being proactive in promotion of vaccination to parents.” 

Professor MacIntyre said the world was currently facing many outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases, in part due to anti-vaccination parents failing to vaccinate their children. 

“The study highlights the potential of political leaders to influence parents, and their obligation to use their public platform responsibly, to ensure the gains of decades of vaccination programs are not undone,” Professor MacIntyre said.

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