Plans afoot to lift child flu vax rates

The Victorian Government will offer free flu vaccination for children aged six months to five years, as new research examines parental attitude barriers

Amid calls for the Federal Government to fund the vaccines for all children, the Andrews Government has allocated $3.5 million to the Victorian program.

Children and their carers will be able to access the free vaccine from May.

“The Labor Government has urged Malcolm Turnbull and Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt to expand the National Immunisation Program to vulnerable groups including children – but the Liberals haven’t listened,” the Victorian Government said in a statement over the weekend.

In 2017, a total of 248,125 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza were made in Australia. In Victoria more than 3,941 children reportedly were diagnosed with flu, compared to 871 the previous year.

The Labor Government also announced it would provide a vaccine for Meningococcal ACWY to Victorian teens in Year 10 of secondary school, as well as young people aged 15-16 years not in secondary school.

“We’ll keep pressuring Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals to protect Victorian kids permanently,” said Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy.

In January, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also announced free flu shots for under-fives, prompting the RACGP to call for the Federal Government to extend a free flu vaccination program to all adults.

And new research from Monash University has explored the views, attitudes and practices of parents, GPs, practice nurses, maternal and child health nurses, and pharmacists on their knowledge and acceptance of flu vaccination in children aged under five.

The researchers found that parents thought the vaccine could cause influenza, and influenza vaccination was not necessary for their children as they needed to build their own ‘immunity’.

Parents also said that they would consider vaccinating their children if recommended by their GP and if the influenza vaccine was part of the immunisation schedule.

Meanwhile healthcare practitioners expressed concerns regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine as well as out-of-pocket costs for families, and uncertainty around the severity, complications and risk of children contracting the illness.

“Uncertainty regarding vaccine efficacy, cost benefit ratios and potential side effects were given by PCPs as reasons why they felt reluctant to recommend influenza vaccination to all children <5,” the study said.

“One pharmacist commented that he was not sure of the components of the vaccine, what additives or chemicals were added, while a MCHN commented that the 2010 WA incident did not help to promote the influenza vaccine.”

Lead author, Ruby Biezen, a Monash PhD student in the Department of General Practice, said of the Australian patients that present with influenza, the highest notification rates occur in children under five.

“Despite the established safety of influenza vaccines, barriers to uptake include concerns regarding the iatrogenic effects of vaccination, its administration schedule, and the lack of knowledge of the severity of influenza,” Ms Biezen said.

“Updated information on influenza and the efficacy of the vaccine, and incorporating influenza vaccination into the immunisation schedule may overcome some of these barriers to increase influenza vaccination in vulnerable young children.”

And in Western Australia, WA Health’s communicable diseases expert Professor Paul Effler warned that “our day may be coming” after pointing out that 30 children have died in the US in the northern hemisphere’s unusually severe flu season over its winter.

He urged parents and carers to vaccinate their children and said the “dismal” rate of 15% of one to five-year-old children being vaccinated had left many exposed to the disease last year.

He also cited the 2010 Fluvax incident and said flu vaccination coverage had dropped from just over 40% in 2009 to under 5% after the incident.

“It was an issue with just that one product but providers and parents lost confidence and this is really heartbreaking because children are getting influenza in high numbers and some of them are dying,” Professor Effler told The West Australian.

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