ATAGI urges co-administration of flu vaccine to avoid ‘resurgence’

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

14/12/2021 3:44:45 PM

New advice calls for any eligible Australian to receive an influenza vaccine as soon as possible, including alongside COVID boosters.

A clinician placing a band-aid on a patient’s arm.
There are concerns there will be a resurgence of influenza, and outside of the usual flu season.

Over the past two years, the seasonal pattern of influenza has been severely disrupted by public health measures introduced in response to COVID, leading to considerably lower influenza virus circulation.
But the record low number of cases has also contributed to complacency, with influenza vaccine coverage in Australia particularly low among children covered under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), with rates among those aged six months to five years decreasing by 40% this year.
Uptake in children and adolescents aged 5–14 has also reduced by approximately 20%, while coverage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has decreased at similar rates in these age groups across all jurisdictions.
As such, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has warned low influenza vaccination coverage, reopening borders and ‘greater population movement’ is expected to cause a ‘resurgence’ in flu cases in the coming months.
‘Lower influenza vaccine coverage rates in 2021 and lower influenza virus circulation in 2020–2021 increase the risk of complications from influenza in children under five years of age who have potentially never been exposed to influenza,’ ATAGI states.
To help reduce circulation and protect vulnerable members of the community, ATAGI has released updated advice for influenza vaccination, which includes recommending the use of 2021 influenza vaccines as long as they have not expired.
It also suggests that an ‘ideal’ time to vaccinate could be on the same day as a COVID-19 booster vaccine.
Vaccination is recommended for anyone aged six months and over who has not had an influenza vaccine this year, particularly those in higher risk groups. This includes:

  • adults aged 65 and over, children aged six months – five years
  • pregnant women
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples older than six months of age. 
People with an increased risk of complications from influenza include those with underlying medical conditions, such as: 
  • cardiac disease – cyanotic congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease
  • chronic respiratory conditions – severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, suppurative lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic emphysema
  • chronic neurological conditions – hereditary and degenerative CNS diseases, seizure disorders, spinal cord injuries, neuromuscular disorders
  • immunocompromising conditions – immunocompromise due to disease or treatment, asplenia or splenic dysfunction, HIV infection
  • diabetes and other metabolic disorders – type 1 or 2 diabetes, chronic metabolic disorders
  • renal disease – chronic renal failure
  • haematological disorders – haemoglobinopathies
  • long-term aspirin therapy in children aged six months to 10 years – these children are at increased risk of Reye syndrome following influenza infection.
It is also recommended that those planning international travel receive the 2021 influenza vaccination before departure.
While two doses of the same vaccine formulation are not routinely recommended within a single
year, if a patient has received a 2021 influenza vaccine in late 2021 or early 2022, ATAGI has advised it is still recommended the patient receive a 2022 formulation of influenza vaccine when it becomes available, which is likely to be in March or April.
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