Further to advice issued by the RACGP and the Chief Medical Officer, NPS is encouraging health professionals to offer their patients influenza vaccination, especially for those at risk, but to be aware that the choice of influenza vaccine is important, especially for children.
NPS Head of Programs, Ms Karen Kaye, says that as the influenza season approaches, it is important for health professionals to advise patients that even healthy people can get severe influenza and vaccination is the single best way to protect against the disease.
“In Australia there are on average 85 deaths and over 4,000 hospitalisations recorded due to influenza illness each year,” says Ms Kaye.
“Health professionals should let their patients know that despite there being no new strains of influenza identified in 2012, people who were vaccinated in 2011 still need to be vaccinated this year to ensure continuing protection.
“This advice is valid for everyone, but especially for those at risk of complications of influenza, including those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as chronic lung and heart disease, the elderly and pregnant women.
“Previous concerns about influenza vaccination side effects have been fully investigated and the recommendations for the 2012 influenza season have taken these into account. Selecting the appropriate vaccine will ensure patient confidence.”
Data collected during the 2010 influenza season showed that the Fluvax vaccine was associated with febrile reactions in up to 1 in 100 children under the age of 5 years. The new recommendations are that Fluvax must not be administered to children under the age of 5 and should only be used in children between 5 and 10 if one of the other alternative vaccines is not readily available. The other recommended vaccines (Agrippal, Fluarix, Influvac and Vaxigrip) may be used in anyone over 6 months of age.
For people eligible to receive free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program, Fluarix and Vaxigrip are available for those over 6 months of age and Fluvax for those over the age of 10.
NPS has prepared information for health professionals seeking more information about influenza vaccination.
The NPS information explains that while there have been some reports of safety concerns in the media, on the whole the benefits of having an influenza vaccine outweigh the risks for the majority of Australians.
“We encourage health professionals to advise patients receiving influenza vaccines that some may experience mild reactions, such as redness and swelling at the injection site, but if they are worried they should contact their doctor,” says Ms Kaye.
A report published in February 2012 by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and the TGA on the safety in adolescents (over 10 years old) and adults of seasonal influenza vaccines found that the risk for adverse events from an injection with Fluvax was likely to be modestly higher than with either Vaxigrip or Influvac – the main adverse event being a reaction at the site of the injection.
However, the report emphasised that the absolute rate of adverse events following injection in adolescents and adults with Fluvax was within an acceptable range, and concluded that the risk-benefit profile for Fluvax justified its continued use in all adults over 65 years and those over the age of 10 who are at risk of contracting influenza (due to other concurrent diseases or conditions which may predispose to infection).
Health professionals can read more about flu vaccines for the 2012 influenza season and access resources about immunisations at www.nps.org.au/health_professionals/vaccines.
NPS also offers unbiased, evidence-based information for patients about vaccines at www.nps.org.au/medicines/vaccines_immunisation