An epidemiology expert is urging older people to get their flu shot and winter booster after a 36 per cent increase in COVID-19 cases in aged care homes this week.
As of 31 March, there have been 658 active outbreaks in residential care with over 2,000 older people infected, according to Federal Health data.
Over a thousand deaths have been reported since the start of 2022, which is higher than previous years combined.
The nation’s top vaccine advisory group, ATAGI, recommends a fourth COVID-19 injection, ‘the winter boosters’, to protect people over 65.
“There is a need to consider how best to use COVID-19 vaccines to protect those most at risk of severe disease, hospitalisation and death,” the ATAGI report said.
“Reducing the burden of COVID-19 in high-risk populations during winter may reduce the strain on the healthcare system.”
Vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection declines from 60-70 per cent after four weeks to 25-40 per cent from 15 weeks after the booster.
Around 160,000 older people are ready to receive their winter booster after having had their third vaccination four months prior.
“A 4-month interval also aligns with evidence of waning after the first booster dose and will allow a large proportion of the eligible population to receive the additional dose before winter,” the ATAGI report said.
The report also recommends that the rollout of winter boosters coincides with influenza vaccinations.
Professor of immunology at Murdoch University Cassandra Berry said “it may become confusing to distinguish between the two illnesses as symptoms are similar”.
“Older people need to get the flu vaccine which is specially designed for ageing immune systems," she said.
“[The flu vaccine] has an extra ingredient, an adjuvant, to help spruce up immunity.”
During the pandemic, the circulation of the influenza virus and lower vaccination rates may have resulted in lower community immunity.
This can cause a resurgence of influenza in combination with rising COVID cases, and increases the risk of illness comorbidity.
“SARS-CoV2 and influenza continue to evolve as they mutate and change their virus spikes," Berry said.
“Flu can invade and damage cells lining the nasal passages and lungs and allow secondary bacterial infections. This can dangerously lead to pneumonia which can be fatal.”
Berry also points out that the side effects of the flu vaccination exhibit similar symptoms as a COVID infection.
“The flu vaccine can give side effects of fever and lethargy, which could mask a natural COVID virus infection."
She said that "annual vaccinations would help stimulate our immunity and strengthen our immune system".
“A yearly combination vaccine for flu and SARS-CoV2 would be ideal for preventing sickness from these respiratory viruses.
"I believe that in the future, they'll have the two combined into one vaccine," Berry said.Do you have an idea for a story?
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