‘Alarming’: Flu vaccination rates fall over 12%

Chelsea Heaney

3/06/2024 4:59:08 PM

It’s the lowest level recorded by the NCIRS in at least four years, as health authorities warn of an increase in influenza-associated deaths.

Hand holding box of flu vaccine.
Influenza vaccine rates have dropped between 8% and 16.7% for various age groups over the past year.

The latest data from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance shows dramatic drops in influenza vaccinations across Australia, with an average fall of 12.2% nationwide compared to the same time last year.
The figures are the lowest in the available data on the NCIRS website.
The biggest drop seen from 2023 to 2024 was 16.7% in influenza vaccinations for those aged six months to five years old.
RACGP Vice President Associate Professor Michael Clements told newsGP the statistics are ‘alarming’ but an obvious result of the squeeze on general practice services.
‘It’s certainly a sign that people are accessing their GP less and less, due to both cost and because fewer GP appointments are available,’ he said.
Flu-vaccine-drop-article.jpgAccording to data from Flutracking, more people are sick and taking days off work than seeking medical treatment.

Data from Flutracking (above) also suggests people are suffering from flu-like symptoms but not going to a GP.
‘They’re suffering at home, maybe they’re presenting at the ED or an emergency care clinic, or maybe they’re accessing one of the instant script services to get antibiotics because that’s what they think they need, so they’re not going to a general practice that knows them,’ Associate Professor Clements said.
‘With the way that the [Federal] Government’s moving with the scope of practice and trying to push people into opportunities that are transactional, I do think we’re going to continue to see vaccines drop.’
The overall decreases in influenza vaccination for each age group in Australia are:

  • 16.7% drop in six months to five-year-olds
  • 8% drop in 5–15-year-olds
  • 8.8% drop in 15–50-year-olds
  • 13.2% drop in 50–65-year-olds
  • 14.4% drop in those aged 65 years or over
The news follows the Head of the interim Australian Centre for Disease Control Professor Paul Kelly’s warnings earlier this year.
Professor Kelly said influenza deaths had risen to 39 in 2023, with nine of those aged under 16 years.
‘This was higher than the number of flu-associated deaths in children in 2022 and in many pre-COVID-19 pandemic years,’ he said.
From July 2020 to August 2021 there were no recorded deaths from flu cases.
Associate Professor Clements is also not convinced that pushing vaccination through other sites, such as pharmacies, will help to bridge the immunisation gap.
He said although there are always early adopters of the flu vaccine, the rest of the population typically won’t seek it out unless reminded by a GP.
‘When I look at that drop in the six-month to five-year-old age group, I don’t see families who are anti-vaccine and don’t want them – I think it’s people not seeing their GP,’ he said.
‘We need to remember that a large percentage of our population will only undertake these preventive activities when they’re reminded, and we have to recognise that every time a patient has a touch point or engages with a health practitioner it is an opportunity for us to optimise their health and put in place preventative measures.’
But it’s not all up to GPs, Associate Professor Clements says, with public health campaigns also playing an important part.
‘We need consistent and regular messaging,’ he said.
‘But state governments, in particular, have over the last 10 years been slowly walking away from preventive health activities.’
He also believes the immunisation drop is just a sign of things to come.
‘This is the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine,’ he said.
‘As people are seeing their GPs less for routine everyday care and being diverted elsewhere then patients will miss out on other preventive reminders as well.’
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A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   4/06/2024 2:39:23 PM

This is a multi layered failure built on denial, poor health literacy with misinformation in a risk averse society, lack of government support for public health & all topped by a cost of living crisis.
Denial of the seriousness of influenza , RSV & Covid.
Denial of the need for constant vigilance , hygiene & immunisation.