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Australia needs new adult vaccination plan for Covid, flu and shingles, report warns | Health

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Governments should create a new national plan to make adult vaccination as robust as childhood vaccines, as rates lag across dangerous diseases and misinformation increases, according to a new report.

A Grattan Institute report published on Monday has found Australia “urgently needs a policy reset” with data showing rates of adult vaccination against Covid, flu, shingles and pneumococcal disease are far too low.

Beyond childhood, adults are recommended to get the influenza vaccine every year, the shingles vaccine at 65 and the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against a bacteria which can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infection and meningitis, at 70. Indigenous Australians and adults with medical risks are recommended to get these vaccines earlier.

However, the report – titled “A fair shot: How to close the vaccination gap” – has found fewer than half of all Australians in their 70s are vaccinated for shingles, and only one in five are vaccinated for pneumococcal disease.

The report also highlights that rates of Covid-19 vaccination have “plunged”, with two and a half million people over the age of 65 not up-to-date with their vaccinations at the start of winter 2023 – two million more than a year earlier.

The report found certain sectors of the population were more likely to miss out, including people who are not proficient in English, Indigenous, living in rural areas and poorer Australians.

“Recent vaccination for the poorest people is nearly 40% lower than it is for the richest people, and the poorest people are nearly 20% less likely to be vaccinated against flu,” the report said.

It also found people who didn’t speak English at home were only half as likely to get recommended Covid vaccinations, while Indigenous people were a third less likely.

The findings in the report were based on data supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The lead author of the report and the director of the Grattan Institute Health Program, Peter Breadon, said the consequences of missing out on these vaccines can be deadly.

“Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Australians are killed every year by vaccine-preventable diseases, and tens of thousands more need hospital treatment for severe and distressing symptoms.”

The report found people are confused about vaccination, as “misinformation has increased, and trust in vaccination is falling. To tackle these problems, the federal government needs to improve its communication with high-risk people.”

Breadon said “this report shows how we can make it easier for everyone to get a jab – especially the people who need it most.”

The first recommendation is that a new national vaccination agreement between the federal government and the states should set ambitious vaccination targets, as “adult vaccination policy lacks the clear goals and incentives that drove increased child vaccination in recent decades.”

The second recommendation calls for the introduction of vaccination “surges”, resetting community attitudes and making seasonal vaccination easier through measures such as SMS vaccination reminders to high-risk people.

The third recommendation calls for a funding boost for Primary Health Networks, including GP clinics, pharmacies and aged care providers, to promote vaccination.

The final recommendation calls for states to identify groups with very low rates of vaccination, and work with communities to develop tailored local initiatives, including ongoing funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to increase vaccination.

Associate Prof Holly Seale, an infectious disease social scientist at the University of New South Wales school of population health, not involved in writing the report, said “We have known for many, many years about gaps in our vaccine coverage when it comes to adults, including pregnant women, adult 18- to 65-year-olds with chronic health diseases and older Australians, especially those in aged care.”

Seale was more sceptical of the efficacy of big national campaigns but said that Covid-19 vaccination campaigns had shown the efficacy of more nuanced, targeted strategies.

“Working with local community members to try to get those messages in language, but also messages that would resonate with the local community.”

Seale said beyond primary health providers her own research had shown hospitals could play a more active role in delivering vaccines.

A spokesperson for the minister for health, Mark Butler, said “Australia has one of the world’s most comprehensive national immunisation programs providing free essential vaccines against 17 diseases covering children, adolescent, adults, and older Australians.”


Governments should create a new national plan to make adult vaccination as robust as childhood vaccines, as rates lag across dangerous diseases and misinformation increases, according to a new report.

A Grattan Institute report published on Monday has found Australia “urgently needs a policy reset” with data showing rates of adult vaccination against Covid, flu, shingles and pneumococcal disease are far too low.

Beyond childhood, adults are recommended to get the influenza vaccine every year, the shingles vaccine at 65 and the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against a bacteria which can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infection and meningitis, at 70. Indigenous Australians and adults with medical risks are recommended to get these vaccines earlier.

However, the report – titled “A fair shot: How to close the vaccination gap” – has found fewer than half of all Australians in their 70s are vaccinated for shingles, and only one in five are vaccinated for pneumococcal disease.

The report also highlights that rates of Covid-19 vaccination have “plunged”, with two and a half million people over the age of 65 not up-to-date with their vaccinations at the start of winter 2023 – two million more than a year earlier.

The report found certain sectors of the population were more likely to miss out, including people who are not proficient in English, Indigenous, living in rural areas and poorer Australians.

“Recent vaccination for the poorest people is nearly 40% lower than it is for the richest people, and the poorest people are nearly 20% less likely to be vaccinated against flu,” the report said.

It also found people who didn’t speak English at home were only half as likely to get recommended Covid vaccinations, while Indigenous people were a third less likely.

The findings in the report were based on data supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The lead author of the report and the director of the Grattan Institute Health Program, Peter Breadon, said the consequences of missing out on these vaccines can be deadly.

“Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Australians are killed every year by vaccine-preventable diseases, and tens of thousands more need hospital treatment for severe and distressing symptoms.”

The report found people are confused about vaccination, as “misinformation has increased, and trust in vaccination is falling. To tackle these problems, the federal government needs to improve its communication with high-risk people.”

Breadon said “this report shows how we can make it easier for everyone to get a jab – especially the people who need it most.”

The first recommendation is that a new national vaccination agreement between the federal government and the states should set ambitious vaccination targets, as “adult vaccination policy lacks the clear goals and incentives that drove increased child vaccination in recent decades.”

The second recommendation calls for the introduction of vaccination “surges”, resetting community attitudes and making seasonal vaccination easier through measures such as SMS vaccination reminders to high-risk people.

The third recommendation calls for a funding boost for Primary Health Networks, including GP clinics, pharmacies and aged care providers, to promote vaccination.

The final recommendation calls for states to identify groups with very low rates of vaccination, and work with communities to develop tailored local initiatives, including ongoing funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to increase vaccination.

Associate Prof Holly Seale, an infectious disease social scientist at the University of New South Wales school of population health, not involved in writing the report, said “We have known for many, many years about gaps in our vaccine coverage when it comes to adults, including pregnant women, adult 18- to 65-year-olds with chronic health diseases and older Australians, especially those in aged care.”

Seale was more sceptical of the efficacy of big national campaigns but said that Covid-19 vaccination campaigns had shown the efficacy of more nuanced, targeted strategies.

“Working with local community members to try to get those messages in language, but also messages that would resonate with the local community.”

Seale said beyond primary health providers her own research had shown hospitals could play a more active role in delivering vaccines.

A spokesperson for the minister for health, Mark Butler, said “Australia has one of the world’s most comprehensive national immunisation programs providing free essential vaccines against 17 diseases covering children, adolescent, adults, and older Australians.”

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