Aussie healthcare professionals have voiced their concern over a lax attitude towards flu vaccinations this flu season, drawing a direct correlation between the declining number of vaccinated individuals and the rising cost-of-living crisis.
Data procured by the Australian Immunisation Register unveils worrying statistics, with a mere 32 per cent of the population opting to get an influenza vaccination this year. Between 1 March and 9 July, just 8.5 million Aussies got their flu jab, compared with 10.4 million during the same period last year.
This downward trend is ubiquitous across all states and territories, with the biggest decline seen in South Australia (-20.6 per cent), New South Wales (-19.5 per cent), Victoria (-18.9 per cent), and Queensland (-18.6 per cent), in that order.
So far this year, 116,473 instances of influenza have been reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS).
A surge in flu cases was predicted after the decline in COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing and mask usage. However, healthcare staff were shocked at just how rapid the disease’s spread has been through the community.
Dr Sian Goodson, chairperson of the Royal College of General Practitioners SA (RCGP SA), told ABC News a potential health crisis is forming from the lethal combination of a virulent strain, decreased natural immunity in the population, and a lower rate of vaccinations.
“Unless the vaccine rate improves, we could be in for quite a large number of flu cases this year,” she says.
Dr Goodson cautioned that older Australians, in particular, may be at risk.
“For people without underlying medical conditions, often it’s [the flu] a week of feeling very unwell and being in bed and not going to work, but for people who are older or very young, or who have other health conditions, it can be very serious indeed,” she said.
Meanwhile, pharmacists have also noticed the trend. Greg Scarlett, vice-president of the Pharmacy Guild SA, noted a 30 per cent fall over the past year in the number of people seeking flu vaccines at his Adelaide pharmacy.
For many families, the cost can be prohibitive. Mr Scarlett says a family of four could be set back up to $100 for flu vaccines.
“It’s a significant expense for a family to commit to getting everybody vaccinated”, he emphasised.
To relieve at least some of the cost pressure, the flu vaccine is being offered free Australia-wide to all people aged 65 and over, children aged under five, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those with underlying chronic ailments.
Dr Rod Pearce, from the Immunisation Coalition, believes making flu shots free for everyone would help improve inoculation rates significantly.
“We think the benefit of making it [the vaccine] available sends a message to the community that it’s important,” he said.
“We think it can change the message.”
Have you had the flu vaccine this year? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments section below.
Also read: Do I have the flu, COVID-19 or RSV?