Tasmanians are being warned against rushing in for a flu vaccination.
Timing for vaccination is “critical” to ensure patients have the highest level of protection from the virus when the influenza season hits, doctors say.
It was a deadly year for influenza in 2017 across the state, with deaths in nursing homes, fit young people in intensive care with multi-organ failure, and whole wards in lockdown.
There were 3505 cases of influenza last year, compared to 1055 in 2016, with 21 deaths in Tasmania due to the flu last year.
There were a number of factors that contributed to the state’s flu epidemic in 2017, but doctors say one way to potentially decrease people’s risk is avoiding vaccination too early in the year.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Bastian Seidel, who is based at the Huon Valley Health Centre, said there was no need to rush in for a flu vaccination as soon as they’re available.
“Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, with the peak being August,” he said.
“Recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of vaccination is critical.
“Specialist GPs are up-to-date on when the flu season will affect Australian patients and will continue to offer vaccinations throughout the flu season.”
Dr Seidel said he was concerned some vaccine providers were already advising patients to receive a flu vaccination, which “could put them in danger”.
“Urging patients to receive their flu vaccination too early in the year may put them at serious risk,” Dr Seidel said.
“The last thing we want to see this year is patients doing the right thing and receiving a flu vaccination, only for the vaccination wear off by the time we reach flu season.”
After last year’s flu season, infectious diseases expert Dr Katie Flanagan, who is based at the Launceston General Hospital, said Tasmania had much higher flu rates than previously recorded, with cases continuing into spring.
“We’re not entirely sure of the reason the vaccine hasn’t worked but there are a few factors,” she said in October.
“I think giving [the vaccination] too early probably is part of the problem for many people. A lot of pharmacies were putting out the vaccine in February.
“They’ve now looked at how long immunity lasts and there are a number of studies showing that after four months, it’s practically non-efficacious so in that first three months, you’ve got quite good efficacy but then it’s declining every month. And many older people are really keen because they know they’re supposed to get vaccinated, so they come in early and want their vaccine.
“You always get sporadic cases occurring around the year, so you’ve got to be a bit careful in those recommendations [about when to vaccinate], but mid-May would have been a more appropriate time.”