Tasmanian children are the latest to get free flu vaccinations, as debate circulates about when to get the jab
Tasmania’s Minister for Health, Michael Ferguson, has announced that children from the age of six months to less than five years will be eligible for the free vaccinations. These will be offered by GPs from April.
“Children under five are particularly prone to catching and spreading flu and may develop severe complications,” Mr Ferguson says.
Meanwhile AMA president Dr Michael Gannon has told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell that Australians being vaccinated at all is more important than when this takes place.
He had previously told ABC Radio that consumers should wait until April or May to be vaccinated, saying that “we are concerned when pharmacies are out there advertising early flu shots at a time that might not be clinically appropriate”.
Today, Neil Mitchell told Dr Gannon that his GP had run to shout at him “because I hadn’t had a flu injection” and asked it if was too early.
“Look, I think the most important message for me to give to people is the value of the vaccine,” Dr Gannon replied.
“So rather than get caught up in a debate about whether you have it at your GP or in a pharmacy or whether you have it on April 10 or May 1, the most important message is that it’s safe, it’s effective, it’s important.”
He said studies showed “something like a 10% drop in effectiveness month on month” for the vaccine.
“You see maximum effectiveness start to wane after four months after administration. So, the National Immunisation Program, the free program for the people who get free vaccine isn’t rolling out until the second half of April.
“The first and the ideal time we’re telling patients to be vaccinated is at the end of April, early May. So, I don’t know why your GP is yelling at you.”
He said that there was no “contrary indication” to those who were vaccinated early having a booster later, but “we don’t recommend it”.
“There’s not a lot of signs that it works,” he said. “Remembering that you’re going to be getting the same vaccine and one of the reasons why it diminishes in effectiveness is the ability of the virus to mutate.”
However he also told ABC Health and Wellbeing reporter Olivia Willis that healthy people should be vaccinated at the same time as those eligible for a free vaccination.
“There’s no question that the optimal time to receive the influenza vaccination is in late April and early May,” he said.
Ms Willis also spoke to Professor Raina MacIntyre from the University of NSW, who said that the peak flu season can start as early as May or as late as September.
“It’s a trade-off really, between getting the ideal immunity [early on] and not missing the peak of flu activity,” Professor MacIntyre said.
As at the start of 4 April, there had been a total of 9,940 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza for 2018.
Recent research by the Pharmacy Guild showed that only 45% of Australian adults planned to be vaccinated this year. Last week, its executive director David Quilty wrote in Forefront that the priority should be to immunise as many people as possible.
“Imagine the power of a united doctor-pharmacist campaign to get the nation vaccinated for this coming flu season,” he wrote.
In March, Immunisation Coalition director Robert Booy told the AJP that people at high risk of flu complications should wait until April or May for vaccination, but that the well can be vaccinated during March.