Winter is here. Have you been flu vaccinated?

Influenza affects about 350,000 Australians every year and the season is expected to ‘peak’ in the coming weeks. Why getting a flu vaccination now will help in the fight against COVID-19. Winter is here. Have you been vaccinated?

Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalisation and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalised and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against flu. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalisations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said that although the flu vaccine won’t combat COVID-19, it would help to reduce the severity and spread of seasonal influenza, which can lower a person’s immunity and make them susceptible to other illnesses. “Last year was the longest flu season on record … and now we have COVID-19,”

Australians are being urged to get their flu shot from mid-April — to reduce the risk of a dangerous double-up of seasonal influenza and coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s unclear how much seasonal flu could worsen COVID-19, but experts want to avoid people having both.

Over 2.7 million doses of government-funded influenza vaccines have been delivered in NSW Deliveries of government-funded influenza vaccines commenced on 30 March 2020.  As of 25 May, a record 2.77 million doses have been delivered to immunisation providers in NSW compared to 2.1 million doses at the same time in 2019 and 2.5 million doses for the whole of the 2019 flu season. 1.34 million doses have been delivered for people aged 65 years and over in NSW.

While the vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19, it will reduce your risk of influenza — which kills hundreds of people every year and leads to thousands more hospitalisations. In 2017, a particularly bad season in Australia, the flu caused more than 1,200 deaths (3.9 per 100,000 people).  “The flu vaccine will help reduce the strain on hospitals and lungs — both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 can cause respiratory problems and even pneumonia. You don’t want to get both at the same time”.

What’s the difference between Influenza and COVID-19?

While the early symptoms of the seasonal flu and coronavirus (COVID-19) can be similar — fever and cough, for example — and they are transmitted the same way, there are some key differences. Influenza typically has a shorter incubation period (the time from the infection to when symptoms appear) than COVID-19, which means influenza can spread faster.   The risk of severe illness seems to be higher for COVID-19 than influenza, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease. Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.

Here are some tips you can practice to ensure you, your family and friends stay healthy to minimise the spread of influenza. While there are some concerns about the possibility of Australians contracting coronavirus and winter flu at the same time, it’s not clear to what extent each virus could worsen the other.  Health authorities want to avoid people having a flu at the same time as potentially having coronavirus — so having two infections and the body becoming overwhelmed.

Get vaccinated.

The most important thing that health professionals can do is to get an influenza vaccination. A healthcare & medical study, where 15,203 were surveyed – 62% Australians stated they wanted to get the flu shot in 2020. The flu vaccine is the most important measure you can take to prevent influenza and its complications. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says the timing of the vaccination is just as important as having it. Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, peaking in August. The RACGP says recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of the vaccination is critical.

Educate people.

The flu itself might not seem like a serious illness, it has proven to have life-threatening consequences for anyone with frail or compromised health, and minimising its ability to spread is highly important. “If people are generally taking good precautions, washing their hands and so on, not only could coronavirus be reduced, but other infections too. “Social distancing behaviours will help slow the spread both of COVID-19 and the flu.”

You can help fight these global killers by:

Washing your hands well and often; practising social distancing (such as keeping 1.5 metres away from others); avoiding public or non-essential gatherings; avoiding non-essential travel; knowing when and how to self-isolate. Other preventive measures include:

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol hand rub
  • cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze – use a tissue or your elbow, not your hands
  • bin your used tissues straight away
  • stay at home when you are ill.

When should I get vaccinated?

You should get a flu vaccine before flu viruses begins spreading in your community, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu. It’s important to be protected early on when the flu season kicks off, but also several months later, when flu activity peaks. Getting vaccinated early is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults.

In order to achieve the highest level of protection during peak flu season, the Australian Department of Health recommends people get vaccinated from mid-April. “Receiving a vaccination from April provides optimal protection from influenza ahead of the peak period of influenza circulation, which typically occurs from June to September in most parts of Australia.”

If you get the flu shot: it can keep you from getting sick with flu; you can avoid spreading it to at-risk people; you can avoid feeling awful yourself; and you can avoid having to put your life on hold.

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are used to make the vaccine. During seasons where one or more of the circulating influenza virus strains shows significant drift away from the vaccine strains, influenza vaccine effectiveness in the community is usually reduced. Flu vaccines can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults and older adults. it is also an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions, helps protect women during and after pregnancy and shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

It is not possible for the flu vaccine to give you influenza, as the vaccine does not contain any live viruses. Sometimes the normal side effects of getting a vaccine feel similar to early influenza symptoms. The side effects are a sign the vaccine is triggering an immune response, which is what it is designed to do.

Annual influenza vaccination for healthcare professionals is important and free for all NSW Health workers. Healthcare workers are at greater risk of infection because of their contact with patients and increased risk of virus transmission via droplets, contaminated surfaces, and potentially aerosolised particles due to their work. Protecting healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season is a priority to ensure that their own, their patients, and the wider community are safe from infection.

The risk of spreading influenza virus in aged care settings can be very serious. Aged care facility residents are vulnerable to influenza due to co-morbidities, advanced age and the environment of communal living. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NSW Health and Department of Health and Human Services Victoria have mandated that from 1 May 2020, anyone entering a residential aged care facility is required to provide appropriate evidence of flu vaccination.

Follow Doctor’s orders..

Take care of yourself and encourage family and friends to do the same. Fresh citrus fruits and green veggies, exercise, and early nights can do wonders to restore your body’s health, especially after a long day attending to a steady stream of sick patients. Taking time away from work to do things you like and create a healthy work/life balance is good for your immune system and your mental health too. Making sure you’re properly hydrated is a must. Take your own advice – the minute you feel the symptoms of a cold or flu, don’t be a martyr, stay at home for as long as necessary.

Everyone has a role to play when it comes to preventing the spread of flu and other diseases. The more people are flu vaccinated in the community, the less likely it is for the disease to spread. Diseases can travel quickly through a community and make a lot of people sick…so the more people who get the flu shot, the fewer opportunities for it to spread. We must each do our parts to limit everyone’s exposure to any diseases.

Everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot.


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