Canberrans are being encouraged to get their flu shots this year following a record number of jabs in 2020 during the pandemic, but health professionals worry about COVID-coverage fatigue affecting uptake.
The flu shot needs to be taken at least two weeks from any COVID-19 vaccine to minimise any side effects from the vaccines, which the head of the AMA ACT branch, Dr Antonio Di Dio, assured Canberrans were safe.
“Many vaccines cause an immune response in the body which can make you feel pretty bad, tired or unwell. In the greater scheme of things, they are harmless reactions, but they can be quite inconvenient,” Dr Di Dio said.
“If you combine certain vaccines within a certain period of time, you can dramatically increase the risk of getting unpleasant side effects.”
There were only 200 recorded cases of the flu in the ACT last year compared to more than 4000 the year before, mainly due to social distancing measures and a focus on hygiene during the pandemic, Dr Di Dio said.
He said he expected more than 15 million Australians to get the flu jab this year.
“People who get the vaccine for the flu, in the vast majority of cases if they are exposed to the virus, will either not catch the flu or will be far less ill because they have mounted a really good antibody response,” he said.
“It is absolutely vital, especially for the vulnerable in our community.”
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said elderly and vulnerable Canberrans who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine should prioritise it over the flu shot.
But people who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine should get their flu shots now to protect themselves and limit the spread of the virus ahead of the upcoming flu season, she said.
“Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection and can cause very serious illness,” she said.
“To better protect you and your family from the flu, it is important to be vaccinated every year. We all need to do our bit to limit its spread through our community.”
The ACT Government is also preparing to expand its COVID-19 rollout as it opens the Garran surge centre for public bookings.
Currently, only people who have been invited by ACT Health and qualify under phase 1A or 1B of the vaccine rollout are eligible to make a booking at the centre.
However, the national rollout strategy was changed last week following the likely correlation between the AstraZeneca virus and rare blood clots in people under 50.
National Cabinet brought forward the timetable for COVID-19 vaccinations for over-50s last week, while Pfizer vaccines will be saved for people under the age of 50.
Australians will be able to receive an AstraZeneca jab from 3 May at state and territory-run clinics and GP respiratory clinics, and from 17 May at all other GP clinics participating in the rollout.
ACT Health is expected to announce more details about public bookings at the Garran surge centre and the new centre at Calvary Hospital on Canberra’s northside by the end of the week.
People who are at higher risk of catching the influenza virus and developing complications are eligible for a free vaccine under the National Immunisation Program and include:
- Children aged six months to under five years of age
- Pregnant women
- People aged 65 years and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older, and
- People aged six months and older with underlying medical conditions.
The flu vaccine is available from GPs, a range of pharmacies for those over 10 years of age, and early childhood immunisation centres for those six months to five years of age.
For more information on the flu vaccine, visit www.health.act.gov.au.