Experts warn: Don’t get flu jab too early
TURNS out timing really is everything, even when it comes to getting the flu shot.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says the timing of influenza vaccination is critical to ensuring patients have the highest level of protection when the flu season arrives.
Rushing out to getting the flu vaccination too early may put people at serious risk, warns RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel.
"Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, with the peak being August," Dr Seidel said.
"Recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of vaccination is critical," he said.
With concerns that some vaccine providers are already advising patients to receive the flu vaccination, Australians are encouraged to consult a specialist GP about when to get the annual flu jab.
"The last thing we want to see this year is patients doing the right thing and receiving a flu vaccination, only for the vaccination wear off by the time we reach flu season," Dr Seidel said.
Following last year's horror flu season, health authorities launched a new awareness offensive that advises people about the four basic measures to beat the bug, including a new "germ detecting" ultraviolet device to show the public how the virus spreads, in hopes of reducing infections. Hand washing was highlighted as one of the first lines of defence to protect against flu, together with vaccination.
Last year's flu season swept across Australia a month earlier than usual. More than 1100 people across the country died from the flu last year, with most of them over 65.
A fast-mutating and evolving strain of influenza A - H3N2 - defied efforts to stop its spread and was blamed for the majority of deaths.
By December, there had been 234,869 laboratory-confirmed notifications of influenza in Australia for 2017, more than two-and-a-half times the number compared with the previous season.
The majority of deaths reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) were due to influenza A.
The NSW government will spend $22.75 million on immunisation programs in 2017/18, including $3.5 million for free flu shots to children up to five years old.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said earlier this week that the influenza strains included in this year's vaccinations had been updated by the World Health Organisation, after admitting last year's flu shots were "not the best".
Last year's flu season was deadly because the elderly immune response to the vaccine had been waning in recent years and the A-strain of the flu mutated mid-season, leaving even vaccinated people vulnerable, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said.
"That was an unusual shift and it's being analysed very closely by the World Health Organisation," Prof Murphy told reporters.
The new vaccines were aimed at improving the response in elderly people in two ways.
"One of them has more of the killed-virus antigen in it, that produces a stronger immune response, and the other one has a standard amount of the antigen but has ... a chemical which tickles up the immune system to respond better," Prof Murphy said.