Monash University ‘Flu Squad’ spearhead Australia’s 2021 flu immunisation awareness program

Two first-year undergraduate students from Monash University have set out to increase influenza immunisation uptake in Australia through a fresh and innovative approach that has captured the attention of Australia’s Immunisation Coalition (IC).

Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours)/Masters student, Yannee Liu (aged 19), and Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine student, Katya Gvozdenko (aged 19), recently pitched their ideas to improve flu jab uptake in Australia to a panel of judges at the annual international ‘Flu Hackathon’ organised by the National University of Singapore Pharmaceutical Society.

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The pair - who were elected to present on behalf of a team of fellow students now dubbed ‘The Flu Squad’ - impressed IC CEO, Kim Sampson, so much that the IC has enlisted the young team to be the driving force behind the 2021 Influenza Prevention Program.

“Australians over the age of 40 are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, yet the cohort aged between 50 – 64 traditionally have concerningly low influenza vaccine uptake, despite the associated risks. The flu vaccine is free for high-risk patients therefore we know hesitancy is not due to cost – we need to help Australians to overcome these barriers and to do so we need a fresh approach,” says Mr Sampson.

The Flu Squad have laid out a plan to move away from the traditional story told every year – which relies heavily on statistics – towards a more personalised, engaging, myth-busting strategy using a combination of ambassadors, interactive content, an app and an annual Influenza Action Week which will be held April 26 - 30, 2021.

“We believe this has the potential to be a truly formidable program thanks to the energy, commitment and innovative thinking being driven by the team of students behind it – their generation has a lot to offer and I believe listening to their ideas and tapping into this energy is what we need to help make flu vaccination an accepted part of Australian culture,” said Mr Sampson.

The story of Ms Liu and Ms Gvozdenko started long before the Flu Hackathon. The students, who have been best friends since meeting at school in year seven, both say their friendship has laid the foundation to achieving many of their individual goals over the years. This includes them both recently being accepted into Monash University’s Ancora Imparo program, which selects the most promising Monash students (only 40 in total each year) who the University anticipates may be among the leaders of the future.

“To us, our friendship has always been about being each other’s support system – we both know that we can turn to each other for anything, at any moment. We also share the same values – we both come from a similar background with our parents being first generation immigrants that value education and healthcare,” says Ms Liu.

Ms Gvozdenko says their similar energy is what drew them together: “We both have a passion and drive to do something positive in the world, to make a change for the better – that’s why we teamed up for the Flu Hackathon and we are so excited to have the opportunity to bring our ideas to life through the partnership with the IC.”

2020 has been a unique year for influenza in Australia, with people staying home leading to a significant drop in flu deaths. However, as things potentially shift towards more movement throughout winter in 2021, improving immunisation uptake will become more important than ever.

Mr Sampson says: “With the world anxiously waiting for a vaccine against COVID-19, the anti-vaccination movement has attracted a lot of attention this year. As we head into winter 2021, vaccine education and myth-busting has become even more urgent and the IC, in collaboration with The Flu Squad, are up for the challenge.”

The IC is a not for profit organisation whose mission is to improve the protection of all Australians against infectious diseases by advocacy for immunisation.

To prepare students to meet patient expectations, Monash University has established the Monash Collaborative Care Curriculum. This framework for interprofessional learning is key to improving patient care - through the IC project, My Liu and Ms Gvozdenko are taking their first steps towards collaborative practice.

Contact: Kate Carthew

Phone: 0438 674 814

Email: kate.carthew@monash.edu