Early flu season in 2023
After a record low Australian influenza season in 2021, and then significantly higher numbers in 2022, experts are preparing for what may come in 2023.
Professor Ian Barr, based at Melbourne’s Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, is the Deputy Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza. He recently told newsGP that the northern hemisphere has experienced an early flu season.
Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent the flu and its dangerous complications. It is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and over, and strongly recommended for high-risk groups, with the vaccination free for some of these groups.
COVID-19 boosters are still important
There is clear evidence that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reduces serious illness and death from infection. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for:
- all adults aged at least 65, and
- adults aged 18 to 64 years who have:
- medical comorbidities that increase their risk of severe COVID-19; or
- disability and significant or complex health needs.
All adults aged 18-64 years without risk factors for severe COVID-19, and children and adolescents aged 5-17 years who have medical comorbidities that increase their risk of severe COVID-19, or disability with significant or complex health needs, should consider a booster dose.
The recommendation applies regardless of how many previous vaccinations have been received. Vaccination is not recommended for people who have had a vaccination or a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 6 months.
Data provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care shows that fourth dose booster rates currently are only at 21.61 per cent nationwide. Coverage rates in many parts of the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network catchment are even lower.
Keeping vaccinations on patients’ agenda
People might be ‘vaxxed out’ after COVID-19 vaccination pushes over the past 2 years. Some patients may also be so focused on avoiding COVID-19 that they ignore the risk of the flu.
Flu and COVID-19 vaccinations can be given together. Knowing that it is ok to have both vaccines on the same day may prompt people to book their shots. Clinics will have to carefully plan co-vaccination. See below for some ideas:
- Adopt the ‘every patient every time’ mantra to ask your patients if they are aware of flu and COVID-19 booster dose availability, discuss their importance, due date and how to access an appointment.
- Discuss with patients the medical and economic benefits of flu and COVID-19 vaccination – such as not missing time off work.
- Display posters promoting the benefits of flu vaccination in your waiting room. Here are some examples from the Australian Department of Health and the RACGP.
- Consider an email or social media campaign promoting the benefits and safety of flu vaccination.
Notes on billing for flu and COVID-19 vaccinations
- There is no dedicated MBS item for flu vaccinations.
- Doctors can only bill for the time they spend face-to-face with a patient for the flu vaccination. A routine flu examination would generally be a level A.
- If a COVID-19 vaccine is co-administered, this item can be co-claimed as an unrelated item.
- Practice nurses can bill item 10997 for patients with a current GP management plan for a chronic condition such as diabetes, respiratory or cardiac disease who would benefit from the flu vaccination.
- Item 10990 can also be added for eligible patients.
More information and resources
- Visit our quality improvement website hub for QI recipes for COVID-19 and flu vaccinations.
- More information can be found on our Influenza and COVID-19 Treatment Planning in General Practice pages.
- Instructions on how to conduct a database search: CAT recipes and COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Up to date clinical information from HealthPathways Melbourne.
MBS disclaimer: NWMPHN provides this information as a guide only and recommends general practitioners familiarise themselves with the detailed descriptions contained in the MBS, available at mbsonline.gov.au. Under the Health Insurance Act 1973 practitioners are legally responsible for services billed to Medicare under their Medicare provider number or in their name.