01 Mar New Vaccinations for Over-65s
Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that, in 2018, the Government would fund two new flu vaccines in an effort to further protect the elderly. Of the 1,100 Australians who died last year from flu-related causes, 90 per cent were aged 65 and over.
The National Immunisation Program provides free influenza vaccines for the elderly, as well as other high-risk groups including pregnant women, those with chronic disease, and Indigenous Australians. Currently, the program supports the standard influenza vaccine. In 2018, FluZone High Dose (a high-dose vaccine), and Fluad (with an added adjuvant) will be supported by the program, and available to the groups above for free.
Guglielmo et al., indicated in 2017 that the influenza vaccination options currently available do not appear to be effective in protecting the elderly.
Compared to the standard flu vaccine, the high-dose version has been shown to better stimulate the immune system of older users to make protective antibodies. It also seems to protect against pneumonia. Compared to the standard vaccine, adjuvanted flu vaccine has been shown to better stimulate the immune system of older users to make protective antibodies. Observational data suggests the adjuvanted vaccine is more protective against hospitalisation with influenza or pneumonia — to a similar degree as the high-dose vaccine. An issue with these vaccinations is that they are only trivalent, rather than the current quadravalent standard vaccine. The benefits of protecting against the most common three strains appears to outweigh the potential loss of protection against the missing B strain.
Both vaccines are safe, but commonly cause mild side-effects, and very rarely can cause serious side-effects. Side-effects are mild and don’t last long. In many people they cause a sore arm and, less commonly, a fever. The side-effects of these new flu vaccines are slightly more common than with standard vaccines. None of the flu vaccines used in Australia contains live virus and therefore can’t cause flu infection. Rare but serious side-effects, such as Guillain Barre Syndrome (where the immune system attacks nerves), have been described after flu vaccination. People with allergies should discuss flu vaccines with their doctor. In the past, there has been concern the flu vaccines, which are manufactured in eggs, may elicit allergic reactions in people with egg allergy. In 2009, an adjuvanted vaccine (Pandemrix) was thought to be implicated in cases of narcolepsy (a disease associated with excessive sleepiness) in Europe.
The vaccination season (April to June) usually occurs around the same time as when another respiratory virus (RSV) circulates, so this respiratory infection is commonly misattributed to vaccination.
Cheng, A., Mr. (2018, February 20). What you need to know about Fluad and FluZone High Dose, the new flu vaccines for over-65s. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-19/fluad-fluzone-flu-vaccines-for-over-65s-what-you-need-to-know/9461766
Guglielmo Dini, Alessandra Toletone, Laura Sticchi, Andrea Orsi, Nicola Luigi Bragazzi, Paolo Durando. (2017) Influenza vaccination in healthcare workers: A comprehensive critical appraisal of the literature. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics 0:0, pages 1-18.