It might seem strange to talk about the flu vaccine when Australia and New Zealand are still in the throes of COVID, but flu vaccination will never be unimportant. Seasonal flu can be just as disruptive to your facility as any other outbreak.
Firstly, a bit about ‘the flu’. Flu (influenza) is a highly contagious disease, caused by the influenza virus. Each year The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) closely monitor flu patterns within the general population. There are many different strains, and they can change every year, which is why the flu vaccine is ‘tweaked’ annually to combat the dominant strain.
Flu vaccine myths debunked:
Flu is not the same as a common cold
The flu and the common cold are not the same thing. There are a number of infections that can present as a common cold, but influenza is only caused by the influenza virus. The flu is serious as it can lead to other, often life-threatening, conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, heart and other organ damage, croup and even death. While flu deaths were at a record low for 2021, this was largely because of social distancing measures and increased infection control in the community. In 2019 there were nearly 1000 deaths in Australia due to the flu, and 1100 in 2017. These are very good reasons why we need to have the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine will not give you the flu
Getting the flu vaccine will not give you the flu. The flu vaccines contain dead or inactive strains of influenza A and influenza B viruses. Because these flu strains are dead, it’s impossible for the flu shot to give you the flu.
Influenza vaccines are prepared from purified inactivated influenza virus that has been cultivated in embryonated hens’ eggs (standard influenza vaccines and adjuvated influenza vaccine) and propagated in Madi-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells (cell-based influenza vaccine)
Influenza vaccination in 2022
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advised through The Australian Immunisation Handbook: “All people aged 6 months and over are recommended to receive influenza vaccine every year. Under the NIP schedule flu vaccines are free for certain vulnerable groups.” But that shouldn’t deter those who are not included under the NIP from getting the flu vaccine.
Co-administration with COVID-19 vaccinations
ATAGI stated in a 2022 influenza update that, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a reduced circulation of influenza virus and lower levels of influenza vaccine coverage compared with previous years. With borders reopening, a resurgence of influenza is expected in 2022.” In the same statement they also stated, “All COVID-19 vaccines can be co-administered (given on the same day) with an influenza vaccine.”
Flu vaccine contraindications and precautions
According to the Australian Immunisation Handbook, “The only absolute contraindications to influenza vaccines are anaphylaxis after a previous dose of any influenza vaccine, and anaphylaxis after any component of an influenza vaccine.” As for the egg-based influenza vaccines used in the National Immunisation Program (NIP), they only contain minute traces of egg protein. As such, people with an egg allergy can be safely vaccinated against influenza, but this should be discussed first with their immunisation provider.
So, when the new season influenza vaccines are available, which is expected to be from April, don’t dilly-dally around, book in and get your flu jab! Help keep us all safe from getting influenza!
But wait, there’s more! While everything above is important, so is how the flu vaccine is stored.
Vaccine storage for the 2022 flu season
Many facilities will soon be ordering influenza vaccines and organising vaccine programs for staff and residents. When you’re planning your storage and distribution, remember to Strive for 5.
Strive for 5
Correct vaccine storage and handling has been an important factor in preventing and eradicating many common vaccine-preventable diseases. Yet, each year, storage and handling errors result in revaccination of many clients and significant financial loss because of wasted vaccines. Failure to store and handle vaccines properly can reduce vaccine potency, resulting in inadequate immune responses in clients and poor protection against disease. Clients can lose confidence in vaccines and immunisation service providers if they have to be revaccinated after receiving vaccines that may have been compromised.Excerpt Strive for 5 Guidelines
From the DOH vaccination information website:
The Vaccine Storage Guidelines ‘Strive for 5’ provide information and advice for vaccine storage management for Australian immunisation service providers, from medical practices to large hospitals, clinics and outreach providers.
‘Strive for 5’ refers to 5°C – that is, the point midway between +2°C and +8°C – the temperature range recommended for vaccine storage. Many vaccines are damaged or destroyed at temperatures outside this range.
- describe the best approach to ensure that clients receive effective and potent vaccines
- describe the ‘cold chain’ and provide advice on what should be done in the event of a cold chain breach
- include resources such as checklists, charts, posters and stickers.
Not sure of where to find information to ready yourself for the upcoming vaccination season? This resource is all you will need.
It’s important to ensure that vaccines are stored properly to ensure their effectiveness. By doing your part and checking your current arrangements, you’ll be making everything much easier for yourself in the future.
The flu is a seasonal illness that we’re not ready for this year. With borders reopening and people beginning to mix more in the community, it’s inevitable that aged care will be impacted by flu. The last thing anyone wants is a flu outbreak in 2022. Is your IPC Lead ready for the flu season? Is your facility? Support your IPC Lead with our IPC Lead Coaching Program – there’s a one-month free trial waiting for them.