General practitioners welcome winter vaccine campaign

The federal government’s $11 million campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated for Covid-19 and the flu this winter has been welcomed by the peak body for general practitioners.

The move comes amid high community transmission of Covid-19 and the flu across the country.

A statement from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) president Adjunct Professor Karen Price said the campaign was important as “tremendous strain” was being placed on the nation’s health system.

“During the colder months, people huddle inside more in proximity to each other, and germs spread,” Adjunct Professor Price said.

“That includes common colds, influenza and of course the virus that has been front of mind the last two-and-a-bit years — Covid-19. There is also evidence that suggests cold, dry air like you find typically in the winter months, especially in my home city of Melbourne, helps the spread of respiratory viruses and this may include COVID-19.

“The pandemic is not over. Unfortunately, some complacency has set in and people who are eligible to receive their Covic-19 vaccine or booster have opted not to do so.

“It’s vital that these patients heed the new government campaign and see their GP as soon as possible to stay up to date with their vaccinations,” she said.

The RACGP president said people aged 65 and older, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and older, people who live in aged or disability care and people aged 16 and over who are severely immunocompromised, including those in Sunbury and the Macedon Ranges, are eligible to receive a second Covid-19 vaccine booster dose.

“Those with risk factors including people with cancers, specific chronic inflammatory conditions, chronic liver disease, chronic lung disease and severe chronic kidney disease are also eligible. I encourage anyone who falls in this cohort to get their second booster as soon as possible,” she said.

“It’s vital that we don’t underestimate the flu. Remember, it is not your common cold. We suspected that this would be a bad flu season and it has turned out to be the case. There is limited immunity because with our borders slammed shut for two years the virus did not circulate. Children born since early 2020 have never been exposed to the flu and are particularly vulnerable.

“There is no need for unnecessary alarm, but we must significantly boost flu vaccine uptake. Even young and otherwise healthy people can become seriously ill and end up in hospital with the flu so please get vaccinated to help keep yourself and the broader community safe.”

Adjunct Professor Price also said there must be greater community awareness about Covid-19 antivirals, and welcomed the campaign to increase this.

“Not everyone is aware that two oral antiviral treatments – Lagevrio and Paxlovid – are available at their local pharmacy with a prescription from their GP,” she said.

“These antivirals are for those most vulnerable to severe effects of the virus such as older people or those with underlying health conditions.

“So, we encourage people to talk to their GP about the treatment that is right for them. This can make all the difference between someone suffering relatively minor effects or ending up in hospital.”

She said it was also important for people to know that the five-day antiviral treatment course course should be taken as soon as symptoms first appear and must be commenced within five days.

“This is another reason why it’s important that there’s more public awareness of the medicines and who is eligible so that people know that if they test positive, they should contact their GP as soon as possible,” she said.

“I believe that this winter campaign can make a real difference and I encourage everyone to spread the word so that we can help keep each other safe this winter.”