As winter approaches, pharmacies will be very busy providing vaccinations against influenza (flu) as well as administering COVID-19 fourth doses (winter doses) or boosters. As many brands of influenza and COVID-19 vaccines will be available, pharmacists should take extra care to ensure that the requested vaccine is provided. This can be achieved by consulting the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) before vaccination and by asking the open question “What vaccine are you expecting today?”.
Due to repeated COVID-19 driven lockdowns and a lack of international travel, the community has had little exposure to the influenza viruses, so the approaching winter is tipped to result in very high numbers of flu infections. It is recommended that all Australians aged over 6 months should receive a flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine is available free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for the following groups:
- All children aged 6 months to less than 5 years
- People aged under 65 years who are in the following at-risk groups: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pregnant women and people who have certain medical conditions
- All people aged 65 years and over
In addition, please be aware of the following:
- COVID-19 vaccines can be given on the same day as a flu vaccine.
- People over 65 should receive the adjuvanted (stronger) vaccine Fluad Quad or non-adjuvanted Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent. Fluad Quad is free under the NIP for patients over 65 years; however, pharmacies may charge a service fee for administration.
- It is never too late in the year to get the influenza vaccine. Vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the influenza season, as long as the vaccine is available (note, most years vaccine brands don’t expire until end of February the following year).
- Evidence suggests optimal protection occurs within the first 3-4 months after vaccination. Ideally, vaccination before the expected winter peak is advisable.
- There is an opportunity to suggest to patients presenting for a flu vaccine to have a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time if appropriate (after checking the AIR).
- A flu vaccine is recommended and safe in pregnancy.
- The NIP currently subsidises the cost of vaccines in all states and territories (Queensland limited to trial sites).
- The minimum age for pharmacist administration of flu vaccines is 10 years of age, except for Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria* where the minimum age is 5 years. The minimum age in the other states is likely to be lowered in the future so be alert for communications on this.
- Interns can administer the flu vaccine under supervision in all states and territories except for Victoria and the Northern Territory.
- Take care not to vaccinate too high on the shoulder as this can cause injury. Review the Australian Immunisation Handbook for the resource ‘Avoiding shoulder injury related to vaccine administration’.
*Practice Alert updated on 20 May 2022
For immediate advice and incident support, call PDL on 1300 854 838 to speak with one of our Professional Officers. We are here to support our pharmacist members 24/7, Australia-wide.