Influenza in 2021 – what can we expect?

COVID-19 vaccine rollout will overlap with the usual flu vaccination schedule this year. As per the Australian Technical Advisory Group’s advice on immunisation, the preferred minimum interval between a dose of seasonal influenza vaccine and a dose of COVID-19 vaccine is 14 days.

Face masks, hand hygiene, social distancing measures and border closures suppressed influenza spread to historically low levels in Australia last year. 

The following graph shows the incidence of fever and cough symptoms in previous years.

Weekly interim report. Ending 27 September  2020.

But how prevalent will influenza be this year?  

It’s obviously impossible to determine conclusively, but the following graph might offer some clues.

Weekly interim report. Ending 07 March 2021.

Despite the focus on other health issues over the past year, influenza remains a serious illness – causing infection and serious complications and even death for some people – the elderly, people with poor immune systems and people with pre-existing respiratory, cardiac and endocrine disease.

The possibility of resurgence should be taken seriously.  

Kim Sampson, chief executive of the Immunisation Coalition, was recently quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald (on 9th March 2021), as follows:

“Elderly Australians should prioritise booking the COVID vaccine as soon as it is offered to them, while those in younger age groups should book their flu shot as soon as the national influenza program begins in mid April. The majority of the Australian population are not planned to receive the COVID-19 vaccine any time before May. While there has been a debate in recent years over the ideal time to receive the influenza vaccination, it is better to receive it even if it is a little earlier than ideal.”

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