Millions of older Australians at high risk of serious illness are not getting vaccinated against flu, shingles, pneumococcal disease and Covid, with jab rates for the latter plummeting from more than 90 per cent in December 2021 to just 27 per cent now.
Issuing an urgent warning, Melbourne’s Grattan Institute said “the consequences are deadly”. “Covid is still with us, and it’s still causing more deaths and putting more people in hospital than the flu,” the institute said in a statement.
“But it’s not just Covid. Uptake of other adult vaccines is also far too low. Less than half of Australians in their 70s are vaccinated for shingles. Only one in five are vaccinated for pneumococcal disease. And the problem is worse for older people from some regions, suburbs, and cultural backgrounds.”
It called for a new National Vaccination Agreement between the federal government and the states, “to set ambitious targets and forge a plan to drive up vaccination”.
“There should be regular vaccination ‘surges’, when people at high risk of severe disease could get vaccinated even if they’d had a recent infection or vaccination,” it said.
“The surges should be backed by government advertising campaigns, and every Australian at high risk of serious illness should be sent an SMS reminder to get vaccinated.
“Pharmacists and GPs should get more help to reach more people, including cultural groups that are missing out, and people living in aged care homes.”
Grattan Institute is a Melbourne-based independent think tank focused on Australian public policy.
“The pandemic has left many of us sick of vaccination, confused about which jabs we need, misled by misinformation, or complacent about the risks of not being vaccinated,” it’s recently released A fair shot: How to close the vaccination gap report notes.
“A new National Vaccination Agreement should set adult vaccination targets, to mobilise effort and clarify the roles and responsibilities of federal and state governments.”
‘Cumulative effects’ of repeat Covid infections revealed
Far from being just like “a dose of the flu”, getting Covid multiple times can cause premature ageing, hair loss, reduced sex drive and ejaculation difficulty in men.
Australian public health expert Professor Deborah Lupton, from the UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health and the Social Policy Research Centre, this week shared on Twitter that research had found “there is distinct cumulative effects of Covid reinfection”.
Leading international research by American epidemiologist and nephrologist Ziyad Al-Aly had shared important findings with Australian researchers showing “Covid infection accelerates ageing processes in body systems”, she said.
The world-renowned long Covid expert questioned why government and public health authorities were not acting to drive down infections when “the scale and burden of repeated mass Covid infections is huge”, Prof Lupton tweeted.
It comes after a major study published in the prestigious Nature Journal last year titled Symptoms and risk factors for long Covid in non-hospitalised adults found that anosmia (loss of smell), hair loss, sneezing, ejaculation difficulty, reduced libido, shortness of breath when resting, fatigue, chest pain and a hoarse voice were among the most common symptoms leading to long Covid.
La Trobe University disease expert Dr Sarah Annesley told the Herald Sun on Friday repeat Covid infections, or one very bad infection, increased the risk of developing long Covid, which she described as “a brain fog, like having a hangover, the flu and jet lag all at once”.
New data published by the Victorian Agency for Health Information had revealed a “high” 14 per cent of people in the state who had suffered a Covid infection had gone to develop the illness, she said
While the likelihood of developing the disease was greater for people who had been very sick with Covid initially, “there is still like a large amount of people that have had a mild infection and are developing long Covid”, Dr Annesley, who is studying the illness, said.
It was being diagnosed in many younger and middle-aged Victorians, about three months after their initial Covid infection — with symptoms for some similar to the quality of life destroying chronic fatigue syndrome, she said.
There was a high incidence of long Covid “in the middle-aged population, people who are working”, Dr Annesley said.
“So there are big impacts there, if they don’t recover, or take a long time to recover … some people will have this now forever. That’s like decades of having an illness. It’s really something you don’t want to get,” she said.
At a recent long Covid conference, disease sufferers had spoken of how devastating it was and how badly it had affected their lives, she said.
Dr Annesley advised mask wearing in public for Victorians over the busy Christmas period, amid the state’s worsening Covid wave.
“I think there’s a bit of a complacency (about Covid) in Victoria now … but people are still in hospital for it, and it’s still causing serious illness in some people. Coming up to Christmas, there’s definitely a risk there … personally, I think it’s worth wearing a mask (in public places),” she said, adding 20 per cent of people with Covid didn’t show any symptoms, so people could be on public transport, in a shopping centre or at work next to a person with Covid and be completely unaware they were at risk.
It comes as the Department of Health on Friday morning reported 326 Victorians had been hospitalised a day in the past week and deaths had again risen, to 144 over the 28-day most recent reporting period.
Deaths among those in the younger 30 to 49 year old bracket and 50 to 64 year old group have also started to rise.
And the wave appears not to have peaked, with the state’s most recent surveillance data showing “high” Covid viral loads in Victorian wastewater, particularly in regional areas.
Why we should worry about latest China epidemic
Dr Annesley also said Victorians were right to worry about China’s child ‘walking pneumonia’ epidemic, that has now sparked warnings in India, the Philippines and Thailand.
An increasing number of cases are also being reported in Europe, with infection rates in Denmark tripling over the past five weeks.
Ohio in the United States has also reported cases.
“Especially as it’s in children — I would be worried about it,” Dr Annesley said.
The cause of the outbreak — which has seen hospitals in northern China overwhelmed with thousands of sick children a day — is yet to be explained, but Australian infectious diseases experts late this week said there could be a link to Covid.
University of NSW experts said SARS-CoV-2, the virus that cause Covid, could also cause pneumonia, but historically had done less so in children.
“Early in the pandemic, we knew SARS-CoV-2 could show pneumonia on a chest scan in asymptomatic children, so Covid can cause ‘walking pneumonia’ in kids,” the university said in a statement.
“SARS-CoV-2 causes more deaths in children than influenza, so likely is contributing to the overcrowding seen in hospitals. Some research suggests SARS-CoV-2 may also result in immune dysfunction after the infection, which may explain the unexpected rise of other infections, including streptococcal infections and mycoplasma, since the pandemic.”
Scientists have also ruminated the mass outbreak of mycoplasma infection — also referred to as walking pneumonia — could be result of an “immune deficit” leading to increased respiratory illnesses after the lifting of lockdowns and restrictions.
The Global Times has reported Beijing Children’s Hospital is receiving up to 9378 new patients a day and has been at full capacity for two months.
Originally published as Vic’s alarming long Covid cases, as fears rise over global spread of child ‘walking pneumonia’