Influenza vaccination can help reduce hospitalisations, community transmission and the “double whammy” of combined influenza and COVID-19 infection
More than a million Australian children aged between 6 months and under 5 years can now receive a free influenza vaccine as part of the first National Immunisation Program to include all children in this age group.
The Sanofi Pasteur influenza vaccine VAXIGRIP TETRA® will be used to vaccinate these childrenunder the 2020 National Immunisation Program (NIP), which aims to improve national immunisation coverage by providing free vaccines to eligible people.
VAXIGRIP TETRA and other influenza vaccines available in Australia provide protection against four strains of the virus. The expected circulating strains are identified by the World Health Organization every year so influenza vaccines can be manufactured.
Dr Sarah Chu, General Practitioner at the Turbot Street Medical Centre, Brisbane, said a nationwide approach to influenza vaccination was particularly important in young children as they are at increased risk of hospitalisation caused by influenza.Last year, in children under 5 years of age there were 36,569 reported cases of laboratory confirmed influenza and an estimated 5,000 related hospitalisations.
Dr Chu said: “There has been a lot of focus on influenza in older Australians, but hospitalisation rates in children are too high for a virus that is preventable. Vaccination remains the most effective way to protect children against influenza.”
As Australia works to contain and cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Chu said the community needs to do all it can to minimise avoidable hospitalisations, reduce transmission of influenza, and the “double-whammy of infection with influenza and the coronavirus.”
“Vaccinating children also helps reduce the spread of influenza in those not vaccinated, so while the influenza vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, it can help the broader community stay healthy.”
Dr Chu said that many GPs had introduced protective measures for patients visiting their clinics and that the “stay at home message does not mean foregoing vaccination ahead of the flu season. An annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all Australians from 6 months and over.”
Sanofi Pasteur Australia and New Zealand Medical Director, Dr Christian Felter welcomed the extension of the NIP age range and the start of this year’s world-leading vaccination program. “A national approach to vaccinating children against influenza is a positive step – for families, the community and our health system,” he said.
“Vaccinating children against influenza not only protects them but helps to reduce influenza transmission to other vulnerable groups in the community, including those with existing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and people aged 65 and above.”
In previous years, free influenza vaccination under the NIP was only available to children at high risk of complications, including those with underlying health conditions and children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Since 2018, state and territory authorities have offered broader access to the influenza vaccine, but despite their best efforts only one-in-four children under five years was vaccinated.The extension of the NIP age range followed a submission by Sanofi Pasteur to the Government’s advisory committee.
“We hope the move to a national influenza vaccination program will improve immunisation rates in young children and help reduce the number of people who contract the virus,” Dr Felter said.
“This is not the year to be complacent about the influenza vaccine. It can protect you, safeguard people around you and hopefully ease the pressure on our overburdened medical system.”
This year, the four strains contained in all influenza vaccines are A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1), A/South Australia/34/2019 (H3N2), B/Washington/02/2019, and B/Phuket/3073/2013. The 2020 NIP will provide free vaccinations to children aged between 6 months to under 5 years, those aged 65 and over, and people at high risk of complications, such as those with cardiovascular disease.
For further information regarding influenza and vaccination, speak with a health care professional or visit: www.vaccinehub.com.au/disease/influenza