Raising immunisation rates, not the timing, is the key priority in flu vaccination, says the PSA’s Shane Jackson
Dr Jackson was responding to a call this week by the RACGP for Australians not to get their flu vaccinations early this year.
RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel had criticised some non-GP flu vaccine providers who he said were advising patients to be vaccinated now.
“Urging patients to receive their flu vaccination too early in the year may put them at serious risk,” Dr Seidel said.
“The last thing we want to see this year is patients doing the right thing and receiving a flu vaccination, only for the vaccination wear off by the time we reach flu season.”
But focusing on the timing and the GP channel misses a key point, Dr Jackson told the AJP today.
“We’ve really got to be quite pragmatic about the approach to immunisation, and have to apply that at a couple of levels,” he says.
“The priority is to immunise as many people as possible – as close to 100% as we can. That should be the priority, and the timing should be the next consideration.
“I think some other organisations have perhaps framed the timing as the most important issue, but for me the most important thing is that somebody is vaccinated.”
He said that some Australians do not have a regular GP or return to pharmacies in a “predictable fashion,” so it is better for them to be vaccinated in March than not to be vaccinated at all.
“Also we’ve got to be a bit circumspect about the timing, based on essentially an interpretation of epidemiological studies where they are suggesting there is some waning off of effect,” Dr Jackson says.
“But there’s been no randomised controlled trials to say [April-May] is the best time.
“We can interpret these reasonably – though we may be wrong – that probably about April or May would be the ideal time, to give us the peak immunisation effect when the peak incidence of flu hits us. And that could be quite individualised.”
He said he was also concerned that some stakeholders are interpreting last year’s bad flu season as being related to a greater number of early vaccinations.
“There’s been no evidence presented to me that any more people than any other year were vaccinated early, compared to any previous years,” he says.
“So we’ve all got to make sure we’re telling the public that vaccines are safe and important and that the priority is to get them vaccinated. The timing is a secondary consideration.”
The RACGP had also called for Government-subsidised flu vaccinations for all Australians, which Dr Jackson says he supports.
“Vaccination should be available for everybody, and available in the settings which are accessible for patients,” he says.
“In most of those cases it’s going to be general practice, and in some it will be pharmacy.
“The priority is not that they should be done here or there; we’ve got to stop that discussion and be more patient-focused about reducing barriers to access.
“Let’s just make sure we’re getting everybody.”