Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton speaks during a press conference in Melbourne on July 22, 2020. ( AFP / William WEST)

Misleading posts distort Australian health official's message about Covid and flu jabs

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Social media posts viewed thousands of times have shared part of an interview with Australian health official Brett Sutton alongside a misleading claim that he said people who have been vaccinated for Covid-19 will suffer worse flu symptoms. In fact, a review of the full interview found Sutton was emphasising the importance of getting vaccinated for both Covid-19 and the flu. Health experts told AFP that Covid-19 vaccines do not worsen flu symptoms.

The video was shared on Twitter on April 30 by an Australia-based account that regularly posts anti-vaccination content. It has been viewed more than 16,000 times.

The post suggests Sutton -- chief health officer for the state of Victoria -- had admitted during the interview that Covid-19 vaccines are harmful.

It states: "The Insanity Continues. Truth in Plain Sight... CHO Brett Sutton, In his own words... 'For People Vaccinated against Covid, The Flu may be a much more Significant illness'..So the last 2.5 years of Hysteria were all for nothing..."

"Why isn't it MORE SEVERE for the Unvaxxed.... Maybe because their immune system isn't cooked," the same account added in a comment.

In the clip, 7NEWS presenter Blake Johnson asks Sutton: "Can we start to tell the difference between influenza and Covid symptoms for sure now?"

Sutton responds: "It's not an easy thing to differentiate, so get that Covid RAT test or Covid PCR test if you have got any of those compatible symptoms.

"But flu looks very much the same, and in fact for people who are vaccinated against Covid it might be a much more significant illness, with the high fevers, the terrible headaches, they can't get off the couch, people really genuinely feel like they've been hit by a truck."

A screenshot of the misleading post taken on October 19, 2022.

Other instances of the claim appear on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter here and here.

But these posts misrepresent Sutton's remarks during the interview.

'Active disinformation'

The clip was taken from a longer 7NEWS report that was shared on Twitter on April 29.

AFP reviewed the original video and found Sutton's remarks were made in the context of the surge in flu cases in Victoria as Australia was approaching winter at the time.

Reduced mobility from two years of pandemic restrictions led to limited immunity to the common winter virus.

Throughout the interview, Sutton was actively urging people to get vaccinated against both Covid-19 and the flu.

"It's never a nothing illness, and having had two years without (the flu) means that we really haven't got the natural immunity that we might have going into a winter season," Sutton said.

He added: "Get your Covid vaccine for your Covid protection, but you need your flu vaccine specifically for the strains that are now picking up in Australia."

In response to the misleading posts, a spokesperson for the state of Victoria health department told AFP on October 14: "The Chief Health Officer did not say being vaccinated against Covid-19 can make the flu worse.

"Taking any statements out of context is active disinformation and is an attempt to undermine Victoria’s public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic and other infectious diseases."

Vaccines work

"Getting vaccinated protects you against Covid-19, and also influenza, and helps prevent you from getting seriously ill," the spokesperson added.

Ashley Mansell, an associate professor from the Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, separately told AFP on October 18: "There is no evidence to my knowledge that suggests having the flu vaccination (or Covid vaccination) makes you more susceptible to either infection."

COVID-19