Editorial: Could ‘no jab, no pay’ policy stop flu spread?

NEWS that the number of confirmed influenza cases in Victoria is up 81 per cent so far this year should come as little surprise to anyone.

Everywhere you go in Bendigo at the moment – work, home, school – it seems people are either just getting over a dose of the flu, or coming down with one.

While Victoria’s Department of Health has received reports of 2851 cases this year, the true figure is likely much higher as many victims endure the aches and shakes without seeking medical intervention.

Victoria’s flu season typically runs from April through to October and the loss of productivity from sick days during this period would no doubt be astronomical.

Despite the obvious unpleasantness and inconvenience of contracting the flu, it is interesting that so few people choose to be inoculated against it.

According to a federal Department of Health survey, only 39 per cent of all adults chose to have a flu shot in 2014.

Vaccine rates were lowest among people aged between 25 and 34 years, with just 23 per cent having the shot.

Not surprisingly, rates were highest among people aged 65 and older, with 73 per cent choosing to take preventative action.

The survey also showed that 63 per cent of people in the highest risk categories – be they over 65, have a chronic health or medical condition, pregnant or Indigenous – had the vaccine.

In comparison, 93.32 per cent of Australian children aged five years and three months are fully immunised against diseases such as whooping cough, tetanus and meningococcal C. Generally, the mere mention of vaccinations provokes fierce debate, but strangely both the vocal pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers are almost silent on the flu.

The US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says that by having the vaccine you reduce your chance of getting the flu by about 60 per cent.

This figure is dependent on a number of factors, such as age, general health and the strains of flu prevalent in any particular season.

But it does raise the question of why influenza vaccination rates are not considerably higher than current levels?

Does the Victorian government need to adapt its controversial “no jab, no play” policy and implement a “no jab, no pay” to incentivise adults to take the vaccine?

- Ross Tyson, deputy editor

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