Getting ready for the flu season: Vaccinate, please! 6 June 2023 Why are you vaccinated with the influenza vaccine? The effectiveness of influenza vaccines has been found to vary between 40-60%. This means that, on average, a vaccinated person is 40-60% less likely to experience ‘the flu’ leading to a visit to a general practice (GP) or hospital. These figures come from hospital and health services rather than manufacturers. You may think this figure is lower than desirable; however, if these statistics were about heart conditions, you might happily follow the advice. When vaccinated, you are less likely to become infected and, if you do become infected, you are more likely to only have a mild dose of the flu. ‘Vaccine impact‘ is the reduction of the flu occurring in a population due to the vaccine. Vaccine impact includes indirect protection that you add to others by being vaccinated. As more people are vaccinated, there is less virus circulating in the community and less risk of acquiring infection. This is called ‘herd immunity’. What are the consequences of influenza? The graph below highlights the severe consequences of influenza: respiratory death and distress causing hospitalisation from a study that analysed Australian hospital records from 2007 to 2015. Excess respiratory mortality and hospitalizations associated with influenza in Australia, 2007–2015. International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 51 Symptoms Milder symptoms of influenza include: fever dry, chesty cough headache tiredness chills aching muscles limb or joint pain diarrhoea or upset stomach sore throat runny or blocked nose sneezing loss of appetite Fact: 9 out of 10 people hospitalised with influenza had at least one underlying health condition. Diabetes is considered an underlying health condition. Fact: Complicated hospitaliation occurred in 10.6% of influenza-positive patients. Diabetes was second only to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a condition that negatively influences the length and outcome of influenza. What can you do apart from vaccination? Keep your glucose levels in the recommended range as much as possible. High glucose levels impair your body’s immune reaction to viruses. They also increase the likelihood of secondary bacterial infections and will delay your recovery. Take precautions such as wearing a mask, hand washing, using hand sanitiser and social distancing during peak influenza season. Who is eligible for a free vaccine this year? Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy) People aged 6 months and over with certain medical conditions Children 6 months to less than 5 years People aged 65 years and older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over People living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions Which vaccines are funded and recommended for my age? Age group Quadrivalent influenza vaccines (QIVs) Vaxigrip Tetra® 0.50 mL (Sanofi) Fluarix® Tetra 0.50 mL (GSK) Afluria® Quad 0.50 mL (Seqirus) Fluad® Quad 0.50 mL (Seqirus) 6 months to <5 years ✔ ✔ DO NOT USE DO NOT USE 5 to <65 years ✔ ✔ ✔ DO NOT USE 65 years and over NOT FUNDED NOT FUNDED NOT FUNDED ✔ NB: The ticks indicate those influenza vaccines available on the National Immunisation Program (NIP). What else should I know? Contraindications: The only contraindications to influenza vaccines are: Anaphylaxis following a previous dose of any influenza vaccine Anaphylaxis following any vaccine component (excluding eggs). Egg allergy: This is not a contraindication to influenza vaccines. If there is significant parental or health professional concern, the vaccine may be administered in a primary care setting with a longer waiting period of 30 minutes. Latex allergy: All influenza vaccines available under the NIP in 2023 are latex-free, and people with a latex allergy can safely be vaccinated. What strains are in this year’s vaccine? A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus When should I get my vaccination? Anyone who is planning international travel should have their vaccination before leaving Australia. While protection is generally expected to last throughout the year, the highest level of protection occurs in the first three to four months after vaccination. The period of peak influenza circulation is typically June to September in most parts of Australia. The warmer the Australian state, the later the peak season. Vaccination from mid-April onwards will likely result in peak immunity during the influenza season. However, it’s never too late to vaccinate, as influenza can spread all year round. Where do you receive free vaccines under the National immunisation program (NIP)? Doctors’ surgeries and hospital and health services Any pharmacy that has registered as a provider of NIP vaccines will have access to the following: Fluarix Tetra (6 months to 64 years) Vaxigrip Tetra (6 months to 64 years) Afluria Quad (>5 years to 64 years) Fluad Quad (65 years and older) Going to the pharmacy for a subsidised vaccination may still cost you a small sum of money for administering the vaccine. Please ask your Pharmacist before you book. This fee may be lower than a GP consult if you are not being bulk-billed. The initial supply of these vaccines is expected in Pharmacies and health services by late March or early April 2023. Unsubsidised influenza vaccines are available to you at Pharmacies in most states, generally at a cost of $20-$30. By Donna Itzstein Pharmacist, CDE This article was originally published on 24 March 2023.