22 Jul 2019

Mums-to-be encouraged to get flu jab

22/07/2019 4:01:01 PM

A surge in cases of flu in babies has led to calls to boost pregnancy vaccination rates in Victoria.

Flu jabs for pregnant women.
Surging rates of flu cases in young babies has caused the Victoria’s Chief Health Officer to encourage pregnant women to get flu jabs.

Australia’s ‘nightmare flu season’ has continued, with a raft of deaths throughout the country during the month of July bringing the most recent national flu death toll to 328.
‘There is no doubt this flu season has been a horror, there has been a significant increase in severity of illness and increase in hospital admissions,’ Dr Alan Leeb, a GP with a special interest in vaccination, told newsGP.
‘There has also been a significant number of deaths in all age groups, most tragically in the young.’
Victoria has proved no exception to the nationwide spike in flu cases, with the number of notified cases almost 10 times higher than at the same time in 2018. There has also been a worrying surge in cases reported among babies under 12 months old, with 416 cases already reported this year, compared with 29 cases at the same point last year, and the number of children hospitalised for flu rising from 16 in 2018 to 346 in 2019 to date.
While children aged between six months and five years can receive a free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program, younger children cannot, making them especially susceptible to the disease.
‘The most vulnerable group [to influenza] are babies under six months of age who are too young to receive the vaccine,’ Dr Leeb said.
This situation has led to a recommendation from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, that expectant mothers – who are also eligible for free flu vaccinations – make sure to receive them during pregnancy.
‘It reduces [babies’] risk of developing severe disease and reduces their risk of hospitalisation, so it’s a really important thing for any pregnant mum to consider,’ Dr Sutton said.
Dr Leeb agrees with Dr Sutton’s advice.
‘Besides the fact that influenza is particularly severe in pregnancy, it is possible to protect these babies with transfer of maternal antibodies to the unborn child,’ he said.
‘We know that vaccination is safe in pregnancy and is protective to the newborn … The efficacy of influenza vaccine is at best 40–60%, but is it all we have and certainly better than not vaccinating.’
Research released earlier this year found a strong recommendation from healthcare providers, particularly GPs, is the most important factor in increasing influenza vaccine uptake among pregnant women. Nearly two-thirds of pregnant women who discussed influenza vaccination with their GP proceeded to be immunised, compared with only 51% who had spoken to a midwife.
Dr Leeb believes protection of very young babies via vaccination is especially important, given their increased vulnerability to the flu.
‘More than half of all children who have severe influenza have no underlying comorbidity and are perfectly healthy, as opposed to the elderly who usually have underlying medical illness,’ he said.
Although some health experts have suggested this year’s flu season, which started early, may also be winding down early, Dr Leeb cautions there can be no certainty of this.
‘We really don’t know if the flu season is over; are we still going to have another peak in August-September?’ he said.
‘If so, then it’s not too late to immunise, and we should continue to encourage vaccination in all age groups at this time.’
Dr Leeb also observed that records of flu cases may have been inflated by heightened awareness of the disease through media exposure. However, he believes this may have a positive effect in raising awareness of needing to vaccinate against and seek treatment for flu.
I do believe we are detecting and diagnosing more flu this year because of increased testing prompted by the timing and severity of the outbreak, and this is having an effect on the statistical reporting,’ he said.
‘As we do more testing and learn more, there has also been a shift among the public and medical community that influenza is not a trivial illness and may have devastating sequelae.
‘With all the media and social media coverage, our vaccination rates in children is at an all-time high – parents have responded by vaccinating their children.’

Flu Flu vaccination influenza Maternity care Pregnancy care vaccination Victoria

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Dr Duncan   23/07/2019 8:09:21 AM

Why have I not seen any direct to the public advertising about free flu vaccines in pregnancy or under 5? I've seen nothing on TV/radio in terms of am actual advert, from the Governments.
Why are they not harnessing social media advertising and targeting the demographics via Facebook/Instagram?