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VIVA: Preparing for the flu season amid COVID-19

Source: Getty Images/Terry Vine

Winter is coming. Medical professionals are bracing for the worst-case scenario of a potentially overloaded public health system by patients infected by both influenza and coronavirus. We can protect ourselves and the community by removing the influenza factor with a vaccine.

Medical and scientific experts have closely studied influenza since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that took more than 50 million lives worldwide. According to the Influenza Specialist Group formed by medical and scientific experts from Australia and New Zealand, Australian cases of influenza generally cause 1,500 to 3000 deaths each year.Coronavirus, on the other hand, is a relatively unknown new virus with no vaccine. Many of those infected are asymptomatic silent carriers.

 The death rate increases for those aged over 50 with the over 80 age group being the most vulnerable.Dr Chris Moy, Australian Medical Association’s South Australian branch president is urging seniors to get their flu shots as the public health system prepares for an influx of COVID-19 patients. 


Young man getting flu shot
Getty Images/fstop123

Social distancing measures practised across Australia is slowing the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the impending winter season will likely weaken the immunity of the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Dr Moy says current intensive care capacity across the country won’t be enough to meet the escalating needs.  He says now is the time for families to discuss advance care plans to prevent doctors from making traumatic life-saving choices between the young and the old.


 University of Tasmania’s associate professor of biomedicine Dr Guna Karupiah specialises in viral infections.He says older people are more susceptible to both influenza and COVID-19 due to a weaker immune system. Meanwhile, people over 50 are at a greater risk of complications from influenza. 

Under the National Immunisation Program, people aged over 65, those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, pregnant women, and children between 6 months to 5 years old can get vaccinated for free. 


Older man getting shot from nurse
Older man getting shot from nurse
Getty Images/fstop123

Due to the highly contagious nature of influenza and coronavirus, the Department of Health is asking travellers who’ve returned from overseas in the last 14 days, those who’ve been in contact with someone tested positive for coronavirus in the last 14 days, visitors with a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness and children under 16 years old, not to visit aged care facilities.  

Dr Moy urges visitors to heed the government’s advice by getting vaccinated before the 1st of May.  Dr Karupiah says even if you’ve been vaccinated against the circulating flu strain offshore it is still a good idea to get a flu shot in Australia. If in doubt, check with your GP.

 While the flu shot can’t necessarily guarantee a full protection against influenza, Dr Karupiah says seniors, pregnant women, and children under 5 are still advised to get vaccinated. 

 Dr Karupiah says residents at age care facilities can prevent the flu and COVID-19 by washing their hands frequently with soap for at least 20 seconds or sing a song instead of counting time.They should avoid touching their face after coming into contact with a potentially contaminated surface in common areas.  

Staff wearing face masks outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Camperdown, Sydney, Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Staff wearing face masks outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Camperdown, Sydney, Wednesday, March 25, 2020
AAP Image/Dean Lewins

A patient and staff in the hospital corridor

Contact your GP to find out how you can safely receive a flu vaccine. 

If you’re experiencing emotional stress, loneliness and need support, ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4646 for 24-hour support. 


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