Immunisation providers should offer annual influenza vaccination for all children aged six months to less than five years and report it to the Australian Immunisation Register, say the authors of a Perspective published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week.
Influenza is an acute viral respiratory infection that causes a substantial number of hospitalisations and deaths each year in Australia. While influenza-related mortality is highest in older adults, each year a small number of deaths occur in young children, including in otherwise healthy children.
Hospitalisation rates for influenza are highest in young children, with annual rates about 100 per 100 000 in those aged six to 23 months.
“While the Australian immunisation handbook recommends that all children aged between 6 months and less than five years be vaccinated annually against influenza, the National Immunisation Program only funds the vaccine for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and those children with medical conditions which increase the risk for severe influenza,” said lead author Dr Frank Beard, from University of Sydney and National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.
“Universal vaccination programs are known to achieve higher coverage than targeted programs. Vaccinating young children has been shown to indirectly protect household members and may also protect the wider community.
“Western Australia has funded flu vaccine for all children between 6 months and less than 5 years since 2008, and after the record flu season in 2017, the ACT, NSW, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania also provided funding for the 2018 season.
“National influenza vaccine coverage for young children increased in 2018, reaching 25.6 per cent overall and 29.5 percent in Indigenous children, which represents a fivefold increase for non-Indigenous children and a twofold increase for Indigenous children compared with 2017.
“The increase in coverage may be partly due to heightened awareness of influenza after the severe 2017 season, however influenza vaccine coverage in 2018 was still considerably lower than that for routine National Immunisation Program -funded vaccines.”
The authors noted that the knowledge and attitudes of both parents and immunisation providers in Australia to influenza and the influenza vaccine have been identified as barriers to achieving better vaccine uptake in young children.
Other barriers to achieving better influenza vaccine uptake in young children include:
They made three recommendations:
“A nationally consistent approach could potentially reduce confusion among providers and parents around the importance of influenza vaccination for children,” said Dr Beard.
“If the influenza vaccine could be included on the National Immunisation Program for all young children, this may also contribute to facilitating higher uptake.”