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Influenza ‘resurgence’ expected in coming months


Matt Woodley


28/03/2022 6:13:09 PM

Open borders and low immunity levels has added additional importance to year’s flu vaccine rollout, the Federal Health Secretary has written.

Older person checking temperature.
Fewer influenza cases and reduced vaccine coverage may have resulted in low levels of community immunity.

For more than two years, Australia has enjoyed record-low levels of influenza in the community, thanks predominantly to public health measures like social distancing and closed international borders.
 
However, with the vast majority of COVID protections removed and international travel reopened, there are fears Australia could suffer a rebound flu season.
 
As a result, Federal Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy has released an open letter stating that ‘influenza vaccination is particularly important this year’ and urging immunisers to order their National Immunisation Program (NIP) flu vaccines as soon as possible.
 
‘Over the COVID-19 period, reduced circulation of influenza virus and lower levels of influenza vaccine coverage compared with previous years may have resulted in low levels of community immunity,’ he wrote.
 
‘With international borders reopening a resurgence of influenza is expected in 2022, with the Australian community potentially more vulnerable to the virus this year.
 
‘Government-funded influenza vaccines will become available from 4 April, subject to local supply arrangements in each state and territory.
 
‘If you have not already done so, please ensure you place your orders for your 2022 NIP influenza vaccines through the usual channels in your state or territory.’
 
Professor Ian Barr, the Deputy Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Doherty Institute, previously told newsGP it was ‘inevitable’ that flu would return in 2022 but stopped short of predicting its severity.
 
‘Things are a little unusual with influenza, so you can’t be certain,’ he said.
 
‘We might have a moderate season, but it’s probably unlikely we’re going to have a big season unless something dramatic happens overseas and we get exposed to those viruses.
 
‘It takes a while to build up the numbers, so even if we do have a moderate season [it] might not come until later than normal.’
 
However, Professor Murphy has indicated the timing of vaccination should still aim to achieve the highest level of protection during the peak of the traditional influenza season, which is usually from June to September in most parts of Australia.
 
‘Influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone aged six months and over, and provided free under the NIP for those people most at risk,’ he said.
 
‘NIP-funded cohorts include adults 65 years and over, children under five, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people with certain medical conditions.
 
‘The program [also] offers a specific, enhanced influenza vaccine to protect people 65 years and over.’
 
He also reminded practitioners that they can administer influenza and COVID vaccinations during the same consultation.
 
‘The best protection this winter is for people to receive an influenza vaccine and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including any recommended booster doses if eligible,’ Professor Murphy said.
 
‘Please consider opportunities to increase uptake of influenza vaccines by co-administering with COVID-19 vaccines where appropriate.’
 
Resources to support influenza vaccination are available on the Department of Health website.
 
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newsGP weekly poll What are appropriate public health measures should COVID cases spike and the healthcare system be placed under further pressure?

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Dr Anjum Ahmed Shaikh   29/03/2022 8:13:10 AM

There should be a special item number for flu vaccination rather than item 3. Like the COVID vaccine, that item number should not be counted in the 80/20 rule. It should not be audited to penalise doctors, who are administering a flu vaccine at their clinic, and go beyond their usual number of daily patients.