INFLUENZA and pneumonia cause more deaths in Australia than skin cancer, breast cancer or suicide.
There is a push to see more adults get the flu vaccine to counter the statistics, as highlighted by a recent report called Vaccine Myopia in the Medical Journal of Australia.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, flu and pneumonia was listed as the twelfth leading cause of death in 2015.
Paul Effler is the Department of Health’s Prevention and Control Program medical coordinator in WA and he said adults considered flu to be minor, feared the vaccine could give them flu, or had lost confidence in the safety of vaccines.
“There is a misconception that flu is a minor illness. Flu often hits hard with fevers,” Dr Effler said.
“People think they can get the flu from the vaccine but the fevers and chills they may experience is the immune system’s response to the vaccine (to build protection). There is no live virus in the vaccine.”
The safety of the flu vaccine has been an issue nationally in recent years, but Dr Effler said they related to one manufacturer in Australia in 2010 which made a vaccine that generated too much of an immune response in children under five years of age, causing high fevers which in young children can lead to seizures.
“That loss of confidence in flu vaccinations was not just directed at that one brand in that age group,” he said.
“And the problem was moreso in the minds of the providers (GPs) – that experience has made them wary.”
Dr Effler said the loss of confidence is a big hurdle to overcome with the flu vaccination rates of children under five plunging from 45 per cent to just 10 to 15 per cent.
Yet parental confidence in other vaccines remains high,
and safe flu vaccines are available.
“Children under five are the most likely to get flu and the most likely to be hospitalised until you get to the age group of people over 80,” Dr Effler said.
Dr Effler said influenza vaccines have been around for decades and he knew of no such issues experienced in 15 years of working in the US.
“These are the only medications we recommend for the entire population,” he said in relation to vaccines generally.
The WA Immunisation Strategy 2016-2020 includes a focus on getting public health workers to lead by example by making the most of the state-funded flu vaccines themselves.
Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said healthy adults might not see the need to be vaccinated, but it goes a long way in protecting the more vulnerable in the community which includes young children, pregnant women and the unwell.
He said vaccination rates of around 95 percent achieved herd immunity.
“Don’t be apathetic this flu season – do the right thing for your community and talk to your GP about vaccination for flu or anything else you might be exposed to that is vaccine preventable,” Dr Miller said.
The best time to get the flu jab is May/early June
Vaccines are now available privately, and government shipments occur in April.
Women due to deliver soon, or people travelling to a place where flu is already circulating may want to get the jab early.
In 2015, 3042 people in Australia died of influenza and pneumonia.
The Vaccine Myopia report shows 51 per cent of adults are getting their government-funded vaccinations each year compared with 93 per cent of children and 73 per cent of teens.