A substantial increase in the number of people being hospitalised with the flu over recent years may be partly to blame on a ineffective influenza vaccination.
Australia has been hit by an early and particularly nasty flu season this year, with more than 40,000 confirmed cases so far in 2019.
It is unclear why Australians are being hit so hard this year, but a new report suggests the horror outbreak in 2017 may have been related to a weak vaccine.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found vaccine-preventable hospitalisations rose by 46.5 per cent between the 2016-17 period and the 2017-18 period.
Hospitals had a major increase in the number of people being admitted for influenza, which is believed to be mostly due to the “low level of effectiveness” of the 2017 vaccine against the most common strain of the virus.
During this period more than 85,000 “potentially preventable” hospitalisations occurred, with 67 per cent of them being attributed to pneumonia and vaccine-preventable influenza.
The rate of hospitalisations that were potentially preventable through proper vaccination was four times higher for indigenous Australians than anyone else.
One of the main issues with the 2017 influenza vaccine was it didn’t give the elderly much protection against the nasty strain that was circulating.
“(The) problem we had was that the vaccine we made against influenza A H3 in 2017 was poorly protective in the elderly,” Immunisation Coalition chairman Professor Robert Booy told The Daily Telegraph.
“Our estimates of its value were at best 10 per cent protection (for seniors).”
This year’s vaccine seems to be protecting fairly well against the strains going around, but this season is still shaping up to be one for the worst on record.
Adding up all the reported influenza-related deaths from different states reveals at least 90 people have died from the flu so far this year.
The peak flu season isn’t expected until July or August, and that number has already surpassed last year’s death tally of 57.
NSW Health Communicable Diseases director, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, told news.com.au Australia was seeing the highest reported cases of the flu in years.
“Across Australia, the number of confirmed flu notifications in 2019 is around three times higher than in 2018 and around five times higher than the five-year average for this time of year,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Health officials are urging Australians to get a flu shot if they haven’t already.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.
“While flu is circulating, it’s never too late to get vaccinated,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Children under the age of nine years having their first flu shot require two doses a month apart.
In NSW, children up to the age of five, pregnant women, people over the age of 65, Aboriginal people and those with certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart problems can get the shot for free.
Most Australian states offer similar programs.