As we head into winter, members may be bracing for an expected rise in respiratory viruses including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and, of course, COVID-19. To help mitigate the risk, all members are encouraged to stay up to date with their own vaccinations – if they are not already – and to ensure their loved ones are vaccinated as well.
An annual influenza vaccination is mandatory, and is required by 15 August, for many members in:
- the public system
- denominational hospitals
- private hospitals and day procedure centres
- public and denominational residential aged care facilities
- and Forensicare.
Full COVID-19 vaccination also remains mandatory for members in many of the above healthcare settings.
What about family and friends?
As frontline healthcare workers, members are in a good position to talk to their loved ones about the importance of vaccination. And now is the perfect time, with concerning data recently released by the Department of Health indicating that only one in ten Victorian children were vaccinated against the flu as of late April.
By late May, the state had already seen an increase in notified flu cases, with cases in children aged 5 to 14 increasing by 115 per cent.
The data also revealed that one third of Victorian parents were not aware that flu can cause serious illness in otherwise healthy children.
What to say to loved ones
If family and friends have questions, members can let them know that flu vaccination is recommended for anyone six months and older and that it is free under the National Immunisation Program for people considered to be at higher risk – including children under five, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and people with medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe flu and its complications.
All Victorians can receive their vaccination through a local provider – including GPs, pharmacies, local council immunisation clinics, Aboriginal Health Services or community health centres.
The data shows that cases of RSV are also on the rise, especially among younger children. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine currently available against RSV.
Members can, however, remind family and friends to stay on top of the simple hygiene practices learned over the past few years, including washing or sanitising hands often, coughing or sneezing into their elbows, and wearing a mask and staying home when sick.
What about COVID?
As for COVID, it’s very much still with us ‘and getting your booster dose is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against the virus and its variants,’ says Chief Health Office Brett Sutton.
‘Most Victorians had their last dose more than six months ago and now have significantly waned immunity.’
The 2023 booster dose is available to everyone aged 18 and over, as well as to at-risk children aged between five and 17 years. The Department especially recommends it for Victorians at risk of severe illness, including those aged over 65, and those with a disability, compromised immune systems or complex medical conditions. Pregnant Victorians are also at greater risk of illness, and can get vaccinated at any point during their pregnancy.
‘There are new bivalent COVID-19 vaccines available that can provide better protection against the evolving Omicron variants,’ Professor Sutton added concluded.
No interval is required between the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, as they target different viruses.