Experts have warned that the 2022 flu season will redefine what it means for Australia to be ‘flu ready’ as the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System reported over 65,775 confirmed cases of influenza in May. This compares with 30,372 cases in May 2019 which was until now the highest number of confirmed cases recorded in the month of May.
Meeting last week at BioMelbourne Network’s Flu resurgence – what does it mean for our sector event, a panel of Australia’s leading influenza and biosecurity experts discussed the implications of flu re-emerging in 2022.
According to Professor Ian Barr, Deputy Director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, “Influenza is definitely back in the Southern Hemisphere in 2022. Countries like Argentina have seen similar outbreaks, while Brazil saw an outbreak of Influenza A viruses in summer this year. In Australia, we’re seeing Influenza A viruses dominate with very little circulation of influenza B viruses.”
“From the samples that are being sent to us at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, we’re seeing vaccine components that are well matched to the Influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) that are circulating in Australia. While it’s too early to assess vaccine effectiveness, this is a positive start.
“Australia is really at the forefront of the fight against flu, with a number of the viruses in this year’s vaccines being isolated at the WHO labs here in Melbourne,” Professor Barr said.
Dr Jonathan Anderson, Seqirus Executive Medical Director International Regions, said that this year’s flu season will provide lots of lessons for how we prepare and implement public health strategies in the future.
“Australia is in a unique position in that we are one of the first countries to face COVID and a simultaneous flu season that is similar to pre-COVID levels. It’s clear that the rest of the world will be watching our flu season closely and learning from our successes or failures,” said Dr Anderson.
According to Dr Felicia Pradera, General Manager of Health Security Systems Australia at DMTC Limited and Program Manager - Medical Countermeasures Development at Defence Science and Technology, “Vaccines and treatments are important tools for managing infectious diseases and pandemics but it’s important that we use all the tools at our disposal and develop a whole of system approach. This includes considerations like PPE, modelling and simulation, decision support tools, medical devices, surveillance, real world evidence and more.”
“We can take a number of lessons from COVID-19 to enable better response and recovery planning in relation to influenza and other pathogens. From improved real time data sharing, faster sharing of research and investing in the development of platform capabilities that can then be rapidly modified or trained to a target pathogen. There’s also greater potential for us to implement and leverage public-private partnerships, similar to Operation Warp Speed in the US, to ensure we can tackle Australia’s key health priorities,” Dr Pradera said.
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