Australia Has Missed the Past Two Flu Seasons

Australia Has Missed the Past Two Flu Seasons
The flu disappeared in Australia since the arrival of the CCP virus. (Pixabay)
Jessie Zhang
3/1/2022
Updated:
3/1/2022

Australia has officially missed the last two flu seasons as the average of 163,015 cases of influenza a year plummeted to just 598 cases and zero deaths by the end of 2021.

Just before the CCP virus arrived in Australia, the country's National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System tracked 313,033 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza and 953 deaths in 2019.
But in 2020, there were 21,266 cases and 37 deaths—almost eight times lower than the five-year average.

This figure fell further to 484 cases and zero deaths at the end of winter 2021.

Australia's latest influenza surveillance report said that “notifications of influenza have remained low since April 2020”, and “remains at historically low levels in 2021.”

Despite no evidence of flu spreading in the community nor severe cases leading to hospitalisations, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is pushing for Australians to get vaccinated against the flu and warned of a potentially severe flu season as winter approaches.

“Influenza epidemiology may be atypical this year, particularly in the context of COVID-19 and the return of international travel”, ATAGI said in its latest statement in March.

“Some Northern Hemisphere countries have seen a concurrent surge of influenza and COVID-19 activity. Vaccination is the most important measure to prevent influenza and its complications.”

This comes as the Australian Department of Health has changed its recommendations around the co-administering of both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

Last year, the advice was for people to wait at least seven days between taking a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Vaccination experts recommend waiting 7 days between getting a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine. Given this, it will be important to plan both vaccinations,” according to ATAGI's guide from March 2021.

However, this advice has been updated on Feb. 25, 2022, with the recommendation that “influenza vaccines can be co-administered (i.e. on the same day) with a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd had some recommendations about how to get both vaccines together.

“My advice is that you get one vaccine in one arm, the other vaccine in the other arm so that if you do get side effects, you know which vaccine has caused the redness or the swelling or the discomfort,” he said.

“So, please, when it's time, get your flu shot as well as of course, make sure that your COVID-19 shots and your boosters are up to date.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) fears that the CCP virus pandemic has led to fewer visits to healthcare providers, and a subsequent fall in the number of people taking up vaccines for influenza and other diseases, prompting an alert from the WHO.

Australia saw a drop in flu vaccination uptake last year, with just 33.3 percent getting inoculated. About 80 percent of those are over 65 years old.

Meanwhile, studies in the northern hemisphere have found a potential causal link between the flu shot and getting some form of coronavirus infection.
A study published in the Jan. 10, 2020, issue of the journal Vaccine found people were more likely to get some form of coronavirus infection if they had been vaccinated against influenza.

“Receiving influenza vaccination may increase the risk of other respiratory viruses, a phenomenon known as virus interference," the study found.

While seasonal influenza vaccination didn't raise the risk of all respiratory infections, it was in fact “significantly associated with unspecified coronavirus” and human metapneumovirus (hMPV10).
Additionally, in October 2020, a data analysis by Prof. Christian Wehenkel, an academic editor for PeerJ, found there was a “positive association between COVID-19 deaths and influenza vaccination rates in elderly people worldwide.”

In other words, areas with the highest vaccination rates among elderly people also had the highest COVID-19 death rates.

“Contrary to expectations, the present worldwide analysis and European sub-analysis do not support the previously reported negative association between COVID-19 deaths (DPMI) [COVID-19 deaths per million inhabitants] and IVR [influenza vaccination rate] in elderly people, observed in studies in Brazil and Italy,” Wehenkel said.

The results showed a positive association between COVID-19 deaths and IVR of people ≥65 years old. There is a significant increase in COVID-19 deaths from eastern to western regions in the world. Further exploration is needed to explain these findings, and additional work on this line of research may lead to prevention of deaths associated with COVID-19.”