Experts change advice on flu shots and COVID vaccines

Older Australians and others considered vulnerable or at high risk should get their flu shot and COVID-19 vaccination at the same time instead of waiting the recommended 14 days between jabs.

That’s the call from the Immunisation Coalition, which fears Australians are putting off flu and COVID-19 jabs because they are told to wait two weeks.

“We’re getting increasing feedback from people saying they’re not going to have their vaccine or saying they’ve got to wait two weeks because they’ve just had one,” Immunisation Coalition chairman Dr Rod Pearce told ABC.

“We’re worried that people are delaying their vaccines and putting themselves at risk, and putting others around them at risk, and they should be comfortable having them together rather than delaying the vaccines.”

Health advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) – the group advising the federal government on vaccines – is to wait 14 days between the flu jab and COVID-19 vaccine.

This is to help health workers identify which jab is the cause of any potential side-effects.

However, just last week that advice changed for Victorian aged care residents, with the ATAGI saying current circumstances in Victoria justify shortening that interval.

Read more: Experts say annual COVID vaccinations will be the new normal

This justification may also be applied to those in “imminent need” of protection from the flu or COVID-19.

“The very few facilities in Melbourne, and in Victoria more broadly, that have not yet received one dose is mostly because they’d had the flu vaccine in the last couple of weeks and it [COVID vaccine] was being delayed,” said Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly.

“They reinforced the fact that the benefit of having the [flu] vaccine and not waiting for the COVID vaccine in those settings, at this time, outweighed any risk of shortening that interval.”

At the time of the rule change, he reiterated though that the advice applied to “this specific event, at this specific time”.

“To be very clear, the general advice around Australia outside of aged care is to keep the two-week gap [between the flu and COVID vaccines],” he said.

However, the Immunisation Coalition says any at-risk people across Australia should be able to receive the jabs at the same time and has called on authorities to consider concurrent vaccinations for at-risk groups.

The Health Department has conceded that shortening the interval or co-administering flu and COVID-19 vaccines on the same day might be acceptable in some circumstances, as, according to the Department of Health, there is no evidence that the two vaccinations interact.

Read more: Health experts tell how to counter COVID vaccine side-effects

The advice for a minimum interval of 14 days was simply “a precautionary recommendation that allowed for proper safety and monitoring for both vaccines”.

ATAGI does not recommend that everyone has the COVID-19 and influenza vaccine at the same time, saying it is not wholly convinced of the “absence of any safety issues or interference of immune responses after co-administration of an influenza and COVID-19 vaccines”.

The circumstances where the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines could be administered on the same day or within 14 days of each other include: if a person or group would miss out on receiving either vaccine; an “imminent need” for receiving either vaccine, such as during an outbreak; or if by the time the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to a certain population, the start of flu season is imminent.

With the onset of flu season, people who weren’t already protected might “need to get concurrent immunisations to get faster protection”, says Immunisation Coalition board member and chair of its scientific advisory committee, Robert Booy.

Read more: Majority of Australians support mandatory COVID vaccination

He said the group’s focus is on “improving and accelerating the immunisation of at-risk Australians”, especially aged care residents and anyone aged 65 or older living in their own homes.

“A high proportion of elderly people living in Australia are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu and yet these both pose an imminent threat to at-risk older Australians aged 65 plus,” he said.

“We note that both the health authorities in the US and the UK have already recommended concurrent immunisation for older people against COVID-19 and flu.”

A Health Department statement said ATAGI was continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Australia and would update its guidance as necessary, adding that should anyone want to get the vaccines in close succession, they should talk to their doctor.

Would you be worried about having the flu shot and your COVID-19 jab at the same time? Have you had your flu shot and COVID-19 jab? How was it? If not, what’s stopping you? Why not share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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