ACT News

Experts urge vaccinations after delay of influenza vaccine

Health experts are calling for pregnant women and Australians of all age to be vaccinated with winter expected to bring a heightened threat of influenza.

The calls come as a delayed government-funded vaccine becomes available to Canberrans just six weeks before the beginning of the influenza season.

Dr Paul Van Buynder, a director of the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG), said a nasty influenza season in the US had prompted Australian authorities to modify the vaccine resulting in delays.   

"We are concerned because last year we had the worst influenza season Australia has ever seen," he said.

"After that we saw that the influenza vaccine in North America was not a good match for a drift in the virus and we which resulted in a very bad season."

There were almost 68,000 confirmed cases of influenza across Australia last year with more cases recorded in 2015 compared to this point of time in 2014.

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Dr Van Buynder said the decision to modify the vaccine would reduce the likelihood of serious cases of influenza in Australia provided people were vaccinated early.

"The good thing is we now have a better vaccine but the bad thing is we are only about six weeks away from the start of the flu season," he said.

"It takes a couple of weeks for it to become effective so we're calling for people to get out and get the shot early on."

Dr Van Buynder said it was important for pregnant women to be vaccinated as those who were not faced serious health risks during the previous season in the US.

"People worry when they are pregnant that they will do something to their baby by having a vaccination and it is sometimes hard to get them to understand that what does something to their baby is influenza, not the vaccine," he said.

"We are urging pregnant women get vaccinated and protect themselves and their baby against influenza - the massage is that influenza is bad for you, not the vaccine.

"If they do have a vaccine during pregnancy that helps protect their baby during the first six months of their life."

Dr Alan Hampson, the chair of the ISG, said the vaccine contained two new strains including the H3N2 strain which was responsible for high hospitalisation rates in the northern hemisphere.

"All indications are that our vaccine is now a really good match for the coming Australian flu season," he said.

"Higher baseline levels of flu have, however, continued throughout our summer and the first three months of 2015 have actually been at the highest levels recorded for this time of year.

"Cases usually rise sharply in June with a peak in August so there's only about a six-week optimum period to vaccinate against flu this year."

According to ISG research, Australians aged between 35 and 44 are more likely to be complacent about influenza vaccinations with only 17 percent "very concerned" about complications from the virus.

ISG data indicates between 1,500-to-3,500 influenza-related deaths occur in Australia each year, which is higher than the national road death toll.

Influenza causes more than 18,000 hospitalisations in Australia each year and close to 300,000 GP presentations, costing the Australian healthcare system an estimated $85 million. 

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