Doctors are urging patients to have their flu vaccines earlier than usual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said on Tuesday that it wants Australians to have their flu vaccine as soon as possible, to help reduce strain on the health system caused by COVID-19.
“In a normal flu season, the RACGP advises people to wait until May to receive their flu vaccination, but with the spread of COVID-19, this is not a normal season,” said RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon.
“The last thing we want to see is patients infected with both influenza and COVID-19.”
However he did advise patients aged 65 and over to wait for the over-65 vaccine which “provides enhanced immunogenicity”.
Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild, told the AJP that “while there can be debate as to the ideal time to receive a flu vaccination, it is definitely better to get it done a little early than possibly not at all.
“With patients receiving flu vaccines from now, there is the potential to build towards herd immunity in our community, as the National Immunisation Program vaccines come into supply for doctors and pharmacists, so that there is more protection in the community when our more vulnerable patients are vaccinated.
“The catchphrase of the day is, ‘flatten the curve’. There are many things in life that we don’t have control over, but what we do have control over are the measures we can take to prevent the risk of transmission and infection – be it good hand hygiene, coughing into your elbow, social distancing and the like.
“All these measures will be effective for reducing the effect of the flu, as well as COVID-19.”
Mr Tassone said that whatever capability and capacity pharmacies have to offer vaccine services, the community will benefit.
Community pharmacy would be able to do even more to boost herd immunity against flu in this critical year, if it had NIP access across all jurisdictions, said Mr Tassone.
“Now more than ever, it is essential that we have a team effort in terms of getting our community vaccinated,” he said.
“Pharmacists are helping play a huge part in that, but would be able to do even more great work if all states and territories had access to the National Immunisation Program, particularly when there are a number of general practitioners who may not be practising from their clinic and are currently doing telehealth.
“Community pharmacists are continuing to turn up and open their doors and play their part as best they can, and access to the National Immunisation Program simply must happen.”
He also called for consistency in terms of who can be vaccinated in pharmacy.
Most jurisdictions can now vaccinate children against flu from the age of 10, with South Australia and NSW both announcing these extended powers earlier this month.
“We need a national approach,” Mr Tassone said. “Through this COVID pandemic there has been a national cabinet approach towards managing all governments’ response; we need a national approach to protecting our community with immunisation.
“That means harmonisation of the age from which pharmacists can vaccinate.”