Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly’s interview on ABC News Breakfast on 30 April 2024

Read the transcript of Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly’s interview with Michael Rowland on ABC News Breakfast about getting vaccinated against influenza (flu).

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MICHAEL ROWLAND – HOST: And for more on what's expected to be a particularly bad flu season, the head of the Australian Centre for Disease Control, Professor Paul Kelly, joins us now from Canberra. Professor Kelly, great to see you again.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY – CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Good morning Michael. Great to see you as well. 

ROWLAND: I want to talk about the flu season in a moment. But firstly do you have any thoughts on the prospect of this universal flu vaccine?

KELLY: Well, I think your reporter did say it's a holy grail. It certainly is. If we could have a universal flu  vaccine, that would be an enormous breakthrough. Early days, in terms of that, very exciting news, but, uh, I'll be watching that very closely over the coming years, as we all will.

ROWLAND: So take us through how the flu season is shaping up so far. 

KELLY: Uh, well, we're not quite in the flu season yet. We're certainly seeing, uh, respiratory disease around the country about so far this year. About half of those that have been reported to the health department here in Canberra have been COVID and about 25% each of RSV, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza. So that's a bit higher than, in recent years. But it's really only when we get into the true flu season which is typically in mid to late winter, that we can really get a sense of what the flu season is going to be like. But what we do know is that it happens pretty much every winter.

ROWLAND: Uh, it's just like clockwork, sadly. So why are those early flu numbers so high? Do you have any thoughts on that?

KELLY: Look, I think people are attuned to finding out what it is that's causing their flu like symptoms. And over the last few years of the pandemic, of course, that's been very much related to COVID. And that's still important for those in high-risk groups to get tested for COVID, because you may need to have antivirals. Some people get that test, have the combined tests and the flu tests are being reported in that way. So I think that's part of it. There may be other reasons, but we're certainly seeing flu. And I think it's a great reminder now to actually work out the best way that you can protect yourself against severe flu, which is to get the injection, the flu vaccine, which is available now.

ROWLAND: Yeah, so let's talk about how our viewers can do that. Uh, firstly, when is the peak flu season and how should people be immunised to protect themselves as much as they can from the flu?

KELLY: Well, typically it's between June and September each year, but in the last few years it's been a bit earlier. So I think, uh, you know, number one message today is don't hesitate. Now's the time to actually go and get the flu vaccine and join in the almost 3 million other Australians who have already had the flu vaccine this year, there's plenty available. Pharmacists have it, GPs have it, some other outlets as well, clinics and so forth as well as in workplaces. So, now's the opportunity to get it, particularly if you're in those high-risk groups that were mentioned in the earlier story.

ROWLAND: Where do flu vaccinations, the rate of vaccinations stand at the moment? Could they be higher? 

KELLY: Yeah. We really want to concentrate on those high-risk groups. So just to remind your viewers that's children under the age of five. Flu can cause serious illness in children, and it's a chance to protect them. Pregnant women, because you can protect yourself as well as your new born child from flu by having the vaccine during pregnancy. Any time in pregnancy, people over the age of 65, First Nations people of any age, and also those with particular chronic illnesses, these are the ones that get, that are more prone to severe flu. And they're definitely the ones we're targeting. If you add up those groups, only about 10% of people in those groups are protected so far this year. And that's a bit less than year to date in other years. So, it's a real rallying call, particularly if you're in those high-risk groups to go and get that flu vaccine now. 


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