Government worried about declining rates of flu vaccinations

Stock image.
Stock image.

THE State Government is concerned about the declining number of seniors who are choosing to be vaccinated against the flu.

New data from the Department of Health has shown the uptake of the flu vaccine has declined, despite the risk remaining high.

In 2016, there were 7,937 confirmed influenza cases in Western Australia, of which 20 per cent (1,580) of sufferers needed hospitalisation.

The 65 years and over demographic, which represents 12.3 per cent of the Western Australian population, accounted for 22.5 per cent of total flu cases (1,788).

Of this group, 23 per cent (722) required hospitalisation.

Despite this, only 56 per cent of people in this demographic received the vaccine – down from 64.2 per cent in 2014.

There is a also a trend of decreased vaccination rates in young children.

A study led by Princess Margaret Hospital infectious diseases specialist Christopher Blyth found the vaccination rate for the under-five age group had fallen from about 42 per cent in 2008-09 to just seven per cent in 2010-14.

The influenza vaccine is available free for at-risk groups including young children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, pregnant women, people aged 65 years and above, and those with chronic medical conditions.

People not eligible for the free vaccine can get it through their GP or a participating chemist for a small cost.

Health Minister Roger Cook said now was the time to organise a vaccination.

“Influenza is a highly contagious disease and in severe cases can result in complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia and acute respiratory disease and can lead to hospitalisation or even death,” Mr Cook said.

“The decline in the number of people getting the influenza vaccine is a startling trend that is unnecessarily jeopardising peoples’ health.

“It is important people get vaccinated against the flu every year, as last year’s vaccine may not protect them from this year’s viruses and protection may wane after three to four months.

“Now is the best time to be vaccinated to ensure maximum protection for the peak flu season in August and September.

“Each year our hospital Emergency Departments are put under extra pressure during the peak flu season, due to patients presenting with flu and flu-like symptoms.

“With the onset of colder weather, we will see an increase in the number of flu cases.

“People can reduce their risk of contracting the flu by getting the flu vaccine now.”

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