Kids’ flu vaccination rates have been given a boost by free vaccines. Picture: iStock
Kids’ flu vaccination rates have been given a boost by free vaccines. Picture: iStock

Why our flu vaccination rates are surging

FREE flu vaccinations for children under five years old have helped boost last year's vaccination rates to over five times those of the previous year, health experts say.

In a report published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, health researchers across the nation found free flu shots boosted vaccine rates in children, but there was room for improvement particularly for this time of year.

The Courier-Mail this month reported flu cases in Queensland have soared to more than half last year's figures, with experts anticipating a horror season and predicting thousands of deaths across the country.

In 2018 all states and territories except the NT funded influenza vaccinations programs, providing near-universal free vaccines - researchers have found vaccination rates jumped from around 5 per cent in 2017, to around 25 per cent in 2018.

"Hospitalisation rates for influenza are highest in young children, with annual rates about 100 per 100 000 in those aged 6-23 months," the authors wrote.

"National influenza vaccine coverage for young children increased in 2018, reaching 25.6% overall and 29.5 per cent in indigenous children, which represents a fivefold increase for non-Indigenous children and a twofold increase for indigenous children compared with 2017."

The researchers said universal vaccination programs are known to achieve a higher coverage than targeted programs, however the increase in coverage may also be due to heightened awareness of influenza after the severe 2017 season.

"It will be of interest to see whether increases are sustained in 2019 given the milder 2018 season," they wrote.

Experts are anticipating a horror flu season this year.
Experts are anticipating a horror flu season this year.

The team identified barriers to achieving better influenza vaccine uptake in young children, including "insufficient awareness of potential severity of disease, uncertainty regarding the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine, and concerns about increased numbers of childhood vaccines, as well as practical barriers to accessing immunisation services".

They made three recommendations, encouraging all immunisation providers to incorporate the following into their practice; offer ready access to annual influenza vaccination for all children aged six months to less than five years, ensuring that a second dose is received in the first year of vaccination.

Secondly, to provide evidence-based information on the benefits of influenza vaccination, addressing any potential misconceptions, and to ensure that all vaccinations given, including all influenza vaccines, are reported to the Australian Immunisation Register.