Young adults unvaccinated and vulnerable as flu hits hard

A low update of the flu vaccine, especially among university-aged people, is a problem in a bumper flu season. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.
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Influenza has hit Australia, and a low uptake of the flu vaccine is placing young people’s health at risk. Kate Williams reports.

Some young Australians not taking flu seriously enough this year – leaving themselves exposed, experts warn.

Ian Barr, the deputy director at the WHO Collaboration Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, said that the nation’s vaccination rate against the flu is very low, particularly for university-aged Australians.

“Currently we’re only having about 20 per cent of people being vaccinated who are eligible … and young adults are probably some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country,” Mr Barr said.

In a bid to turn this around, the Victorian Government today announced that flu shots would be available free to all Victorians during June.

The low uptake of the flu vaccine is coinciding with a flu season that has struck earlier than usual, Barr said.

Influenza is certainly back and in the last six weeks we’ve seen a very big spike in cases.

“We wouldn’t normally see these spikes probably for another month or so,” he said.

Victorian Health minister Martin Foley said the free vaccinations were in response to the large spike in cases Victoria had seen, with likely many more than the 15,000 official cases in the population. This winter would be the first “real flu season” since before Covid hit, he said.

According to Mr Barr, many young people think of themselves as “bulletproof” so see no need to vaccinate themselves, but in truth young adults can be affected as severely as anyone.

Amelia Dunn, 21, became unwell with the flu on April 24 and was still being affected by it almost a month later.

Young adults unvaccinated and vulnerable as flu hits hard
Swinburne student Matt Williams is vaccinated against the flu. Picture: Kate Williams

“I went to the emergency department on the 28th [of April] because I was coughing so much I was throwing up and couldn’t keep food down,” she said.

Ms Dunn was later diagnosed with influenza type A and suffered additional medical issues as a result of waiting to seek medical help.

“I had developed a secondary chest infection and possibly a cracked rib after so long of not being treated,” she said.

“When I had the flu, I was constantly coughing, sneezing, with full body aches, brain fuzz and fatigue. It was worse than when I had covid which at the time was the most sick I’d ever been.”

Ms Dunn was one the many young Australian’s who had not yet been vaccinated against the flu, which she attributes to being “pre-occupied” with protecting herself from COVID-19.

Young adults unvaccinated and vulnerable as flu hits hard
Flu shuts are available from doctors and chemists.

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health, just over seven million Australians have been immunised against the flu as of May 30.

Both Mr Barr and Ms Dunn urged young people to take influenza seriously.

Swinburne students looking to get vaccinated can access free flu shots from Swinburne Health Services, where staff say over 1000 people have already been immunized.

Swinburne student Matt Williams says getting his flu shot was “super simple”. “My GP suggested it and I figured why not?’ he said.

Mr Barr said Australia’s flu cases would continue to climb for several weeks, so vaccinations are as important as ever.

“Now is a good time, there is a lot of influenza in the community so don’t hesitate, go and get vaccinated now,” he said.