The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is reminding Australians that it’s still important to get their influenza vaccine this year.
People are usually advised to get their annual influenza vaccine before the start of the flu season, which commonly peaks from June to September in most parts of the country. However, this year the flu vaccine needs to be managed alongside the phased rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across Australia.
Older and more vulnerable people have been prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination and will be receiving these over the next few months.
On the other hand, most younger and healthier people will not be receiving COVID-19 vaccinations until later in the year, and are therefore strongly encouraged to get their flu vaccine when it becomes available in April.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said the twin rollouts of COVID-19 and influenza vaccines was an enormous logistical exercise, especially as the two vaccines are not recommended to be given at the same time.
‘We are dealing with the twin threats of influenza and COVID-19, for which two national vaccination programs will be rolling out at the same time – it’s a lot for our health system to manage, and it’s a lot for patients,’ said Dr Price.
‘I have every confidence that general practice is up to the task, vaccines are business as usual for GPs.
‘But we do need a different approach to get the job done. That’s why we are urging patients in later phases for the COVID-19 vaccine to get their flu shot as soon as it is available, and then get their COVID-19 vaccine when they can,’ she said.
Minimise strain on system and patients
According to Dr Price, this approach will help to minimise strain on the health system and also make the experience easier for patients.
‘If you’re young and healthy you might think you should be standing back and waiting for the most vulnerable patients to get their flu shots first,’ she said.
‘In fact, we want these patients to do the opposite. Book an appointment with your GP to get your flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and then get your COVID-19 vaccine when you can.
‘Patients who are more vulnerable, including those who are older, should prioritise getting their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is offered to them,’ said Dr Price.
‘For patients who have questions or concerns about either vaccine, I urge you to book an appointment to speak with your GP – we’re here to help.’
National vaccine rollout scaling up
More than 4,500 general practices have been approved as vaccine clinics in Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, with over 1,000 commencing from the week of 22 March 2021. The program is planned to rapidly scale up and roll out to more practices.
Patients can check their vaccine eligibility and see if their usual general practice is delivering COVID-19 vaccinations in the Government’s Vaccine Eligibility Checker, online here.
The RACGP says patients should contact their usual general practice about receiving a flu vaccine when it’s available in April. Many practices will alert patients when flu vaccines are available, and patients should check their usual clinic’s website.
The annual influenza vaccine is recommended for all patients over six months to prevent influenza. For those aged over 65 years, the adjuvanted influenza vaccine, Fluad® Quad, is recommended over the standard influenza vaccine.
The influenza vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine should be administered at least fourteen days apart, according to clinical advice. The AstraZeneca vaccine is designed to be administered in two doses, twelve weeks apart.