Adults missing out on free, life-saving vaccinations

Up to 3.8 million Australian adults are missing out on free vaccinations each year, putting themselves at risk of contracting life-threatening, yet preventable infections.

The findings are according to a report published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) today (March 27, 2017).

The report, entitled Vaccine Myopia, coincides with the launch of the University of New South Wales Vaccine and Infection Research Lab (UNSW VIRL), Sydney – a national research centre of excellence designed to tackle the serious issue of low adult vaccination rates, and reduce the gap between infant and adult vaccination.

According to the report, only one-in-two Australian adults (51 per cent) are receiving their Government-funded vaccinations each year.

Each year, influenza causes more than 3,000 deaths and 13,500 hospitalisations in Australians aged over 50.

Dr Bastian Seidel, Tasmanian GP and President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said, “Australia has high childhood immunisation rates by international standards, but we continue to have vast numbers of under-vaccinated adults.

“We have a 75 per cent influenza vaccination rate for those aged 65+; a 30 per cent pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination rate for those aged 65+ and a 50 per cent rate for those aged 70+.

“Only four months ago, the Federal Government introduced a free vaccine for the complicated and painful condition, shingles, for those aged 70+,” said Dr Seidel.

The Immunise Australia Program (IAP) funds adult vaccines for influenza (flu), pneumococcal pneumonia and shingles, to protect millions of Australian adults from vaccine-preventable diseases.

UNSW VIRL Head & co-author, Professor Raina MacIntyre, said Australians aged 65 years and over, who constitute the majority of adults missing out on free vaccinations, have an equal right to protection against life-threatening illness.

Prof MacIntyre said, “Being sick costs the economy – being hospitalised cripples it. Each year, Australia accrues tens of millions of dollars on vaccine-preventable hospitalisations. Vaccines should be seen as an investment, rather than a cost. Australians over 65 should get vaccinated against pneumonia and influenza, and shingles too when over 70.

“Australians aged 65+, and those eligible for vaccinations, should take responsibility for their health and talk to their doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases, such as shingles, pneumonia and influenza saves lives,” said Prof MacIntyre.

For more information see www.unsw.virl.com.au, contact UNSW VIRL @UNSW_VIRL, or www.mja.com.au.

About adult vaccination – influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia & shingles

Influenza, or ‘the flu’, is a highly contagious viral illness  transmitted from person-to-person via droplets and small particles produced when infected people cough or sneeze, and through hand contact with contaminated surfaces.

Vaccination is government funded for non-Indigenous Australians aged 65 years and older, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 15 years and older, and adults aged 18 years and older with chronic, or specific medical conditions.

Pneumonia is a potentially life-threatening infection that affects the air sacs in lungs, whereby they are filled with pus and fluid, making breathing painful, causing cough and limiting oxygen intake. Pneumonia may be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi.

Pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination is government funded for non-Indigenous Australians aged 65 years and older, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 50 years and older, and adults aged 18 years and older with chronic, or specific medical conditions.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster virus, a type of herpes virus.

Anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk of contracting shingles.

Shingles can affect 98 per cent of the adult population, with complications, such as post herpetic neuralgia (PHN), an extremely painful burning sensation that lasts after shingles rash and blisters disappears.

Shingles vaccination is government funded for all Australians aged 70 to 79 years.

Other vaccines available in Australia, but not funded for adults under the IAP, include pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis, hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.

Common travel vaccines are also available, including those for yellow fever, malaria, typhoid fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, cholera and rabies.