The seasonal flu shot for aged care residents and workers will likely be postponed while the first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations are administered, South Australian stakeholders have heard.

Key points:

  • COVID-19 vaccines are to take precedence over flu shots for aged care residents and workers
  • Large aged care providers have already booked their influenza vaccination program for March
  • Both vaccinations cannot take place at the same time with a logistical headache looming

At a COVID-19 vaccine forum for the sector held in Adelaide on Monday, SA Health representatives reportedly said the flu shot could be delayed to prioritise the vaccine rollout’s first phase and that legislative changes could be required.

It prompted questions by Eldercare chief executive officer Jane Pickering, whose organisation was given the go ahead in mid-December to begin its 2021 seasonal influenza vaccination program, which starts in March.

“The concern I raised was around ensuring different areas of the department line up so they are consistent with each other and we’re not proceeding with one particular vaccine program that may place the other vaccination program at risk,” she said.

COVID vaccines are slated to begin incrementally in mid-February for first priority populations, which includes aged and disability care residents and workers, frontline health workers, and quarantine and border staff.

“We have an external provider who does that and we have to book them well in advance and I can tell you that all of the large aged care providers would have booked their influenza programs.

“I understand everybody’s trying to do the best they can, but nobody knows the detail yet and we’ll all respond when we get it.”

Logistics to be negotiated

A SA Health spokesperson said the department would work with the Commonwealth Government, which had determined priority groups and timelines, to distribute the vaccine.

“We are still working through the logistics to determine if any legislative changes are required,” she said.

“In line with national advice, the influenza vaccination should not be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Pfizer vaccine questions

Ms Pickering said Australia’s response to reports that up to 30 frail people with co-morbidities had died after being administered the Pfizer vaccine in Norway would also have to be “cleared up”.

“If they [Therapeutic Goods Administration] are going to say the Pfizer’s not suitable for them, they’ll move on to AstraZeneca, which we’re getting in March anyway.

“They’re not going to take any risks.”

The Pfizer vaccine is yet to be approved for use in Australia by the TGA, which is reviewing information supplied by its manufacturer.

Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said safety was “Australia’s number one priority” and the Government had also requested information from the Norwegian Government.

“We’ll continue to follow the processes of the medical regulator because that’s going to keep Australians safe and ultimately provide confidence.”