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The Flu & Immunisation

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FLU NEWS UPDATE………

24th March 2020:
FREE GOVERNMENT FUNDED FLU VACCINES FOR OVER 65s IS NOW AVAILABLE – you must have an appointment to receive this – ask at reception & book in with a nurse for this.
UNDER 5 YEAR OLDS & THOSE WITH ELIGIBLE MEDICAL INDICATIONS* – These are not yet available but will be very soon

 

FOR EVERYONE ELSE WHO WANTS TO BE VACCINATED PRIVATE FLU VACCINES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FOR $20 – ASK AT RECEPTION

 

*Read in ‘Who gets a free flu vaccine’ for medical eligibility

Influenza – The ‘flu’…..all you need to know

In this post we aim to demystify some of the confusing aspects about this infection & how we can gain protection against it as well as provide up-to-date news on this year’s vaccination program.

 

 

The government-issued National Immunisation Program (NIP) free influenza (flu) vaccination has been made available for the 2020 season as of 24th March.

If you are eligible please ensure you receive this (read below for eligibility criteria). 

WHAT IS THE FLU, WHY AN ANNUAL VACCINE?

The influenza virus, or ‘flu’, usually presents itself as an infectious epidemic during winter. The flu itself is a very debilitating respiratory infection which most people thankfully fight off.

However, for some vulnerable groups, such as the young, elderly or those with chronic illnesses, it can be lethal as they have weaker immune systems, they can develop a secondary infection or the stress of the flu can worsen their pre-existing condition.

The battle against the flu virus is a challenge as it regularly changes to develop new versions of itself, or ‘sub-strains’ when our bodies develop immunity to it. For this reason a new sub-type of vaccine is developed each year to combat that year’s new strain of the virus.

A new vaccine needs to be developed annually to reflect new sub-strains & is available in Autumn free-of-charge (under the NIP) to vulnerable groups, or at a small charge to those that wish to have protection anyway.

WHO GETS A FREE FLU VACCINE

As part of the government’s department of health National Immunisation Program, or ‘NIP’, the new annual influenza vaccine is offered to all ‘vulnerable’ people free-of-charge at medical centres.

Those people eligible are:

  • All people over 65 years of age.
  • All children over 6 months to 5 years of age (first year require 2 doses a month apart)
  • Pregnant women
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to 5 years & 15 years and over
  • People over 5 years old with medical conditions predisposing them to severe influenza, for example:
    • Cardiac disease
    • Chronic respiratory conditions, including severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis suppurative lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic emphysema
    • Chronic neurological conditions that impact on respiratory function, including hereditary and degenerative central nervous system diseases (including multiple sclerosis), seizure disorders, spinal cord injuries and neuromuscular disorder
    • Immunocompromising conditions, e.g. malignancy, transplantation and/or chronic steroid     use, asplenia or splenic dysfunction, and HIV infection
    • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
    • Kidney disease, especially for chronic renal failure
    • Haematological (blood) disorders, including haemoglobinopathies
    • Children aged 5 to 10 years on long term aspirin therapy

2020 SEASON VACCINATION DEMYSTIFIED

The NIP 2020 influenza vaccine arrived in late March.

There is a national drive to get flu immunisation right this year given the apprehension about the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a fair amount of confusing media hype about it & we aim to summarise the facts and some provide FAQs to expand on them further down the post:

  • All eligible/vulnerable people are seriously advised to receive the flu vaccine this year, more so than ever
  • Whilst the flu vaccine does not protect against novel coronavirus/COVID-19, having protection against influenza in a very hazardous time is very much advised, and in some vulnerable cases it is essential
  • All over 65s will be offered a ‘trivalent’ influenza vaccine.
  • All children over 6 months & under 5 year olds continue to be offered a free influenza vaccine this year (given as 2 doses a month apart if never received before).
  • Eligible people under 65 years old will be provided with a ‘quadrivalent’ influenza vaccine. 

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED/FAQs

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

The National Immunisation Program ‘free’ vaccine is available as of late March 2020 at EMC for the over 65s. Private influenza vaccines are also available at EMC at a fee to those that do not qualify for the NIP. Some pharmacies have also already started offering the 2020 private influenza vaccine (not NIP). We await the NIP funded flu vaccine for under 65s vulnerable cases (watch this space)

Will the vaccine be free?

Yes, it will provided you meet the National Immunisation Program (NIP) criteria (stated above). Otherwise you will need to pay for a private influenza vaccine if you wish to be immunised.

Could I get the flu with the influenza vaccine?

No, the influenza vaccine is not a live vaccine; it contains inactivated parts of the viruses. Your immune system will then be familiar with these viruses so that it can defend against developing the illness.

What is meant by ‘trivalent’ & ‘quadrivalent’ influenza vaccines?

This is the confusing matter. There are two strains of influenza virus (A+B) of which there are numerous sub-strains, any of which could cause the flu.

Each year scientists establish the more prevalent sub-strains of influenza that will circulate in the flu season. The prediction for 2020 is that there are two influenza A and two influenza B virus sub-strains circulating. These four virus sub-strains will be combined into the ‘quadrivalent’ vaccination.

The ‘trivalent’ vaccination contains the same two influenza A virus sub-strains as in the quadrivalent vaccine and one influenza B virus sub-strain.

Why are the over 65s being offered a new trivalent?

It is argued that the trivalent vaccine is an enhanced vaccine that is designed to be very effective against influenza A (H3N2), the sub-strain of virus that disproportionately affected the over 65s in the past, and particularly in the troubling 2017 winter season. Consequently it is thought to be a superior product to provide protection to this age group.

Why do under 5 year olds need 2 jabs & adults only need one?

The nature of the child’s immune system is that more boosters are needed (at least the first time they receive a flu vaccine) to gain enough protection. All children under 9 would require an initial 2 dose schedule then for subsequent flu seasons they would only require the standard one dose.

When should I get the influenza vaccine?

This is the most challenging debate of all. The answer is it is your choice. We are advising this year to get it done as soon as possible due to the COVID-19 imminent threat, especially if you meet the eligibility criteria for a free NIP-funded flu vaccination.

There has been an argument for later vaccination given the late rise in flu cases in 2017 (August through to October), and that some cases arose in previously vaccinated people; protection from the influenza vaccine waned after 4+ months. For this reason it is understandable if people chose to wait until May or early winter to receive their vaccine.

The counter argument was always been that there is also a chance of an early outbreak of flu in autumn, thus delaying their protection people are making themselves vulnerable to such an event.

If you have any queries do not hesitate to ask one of the GPs or nurses here.

 

 

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