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.
This figure fell further to 484 cases and zero deaths at the end of winter 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“Receiving influenza vaccination may increase the risk of other respiratory viruses, a phenomenon known as virus interference," the study found.
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.