Australians are being urged to take advantage of free flu shots ahead of a horror sickness season due to a virus expected to kill more than 4000 people this winter.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Sunday announced a nationwide distribution of the influenza vaccine, available for eligible people at no cost through the Federal Government-funded National Immunisation Program (NIP).
More than six million flu shots will be free for Australians aged over 65, indigenous people, pregnant women and those at a greater medical risk of contracting the virus.
Experts say the best time to get the jab is at the end of April as the vaccine wears off after three to four months and takes a few weeks to build immunity.
As hospitals brace for a horror flu season, the Australian Government has announced free flu shots for at-risk groups through the National Immunisation Program
Mr Hunt said it’s important Australians get vaccinated each year as the virus changes from year to year.
‘Clinical experts have advised that optimal protection against influenza occurs within the first three to four months following vaccination,’ he said.
‘Getting vaccinated from mid-April allows protection during the peak influenza transmission period, from around June to September in most parts of Australia.’
The flu shots are part of the Australian Government’s push to lessen the spread of the flu which has devastated communities in recent years.
More than 10,000 people caught the flu in March 2019 – 6,827 more than this time last year, according to official data released by the Immunisation Coalition.
More than 10,000 Australians caught the flu in March 2019 – almost 7000 more than this time last year
In 2017, 1255 people died as a result of the virus, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said GP Dr Harry Nespolen, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
‘Because 2017 was a terrible flu season, in 2018 everyone was scared and rushed off for flu shots and we had a relatively mild season [less than 100 deaths were reported],’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
But as 2018 was ‘mild’ many people did not build up enough immunity in the community, meaning this year’s flu season is expected to be particularly severe, said the Immunisation Coalition’s Chair, Professor Robert Booy.
‘Last year was so quiet that we didn’t build up enough immunity in the community, which means we never achieved ‘herd protection’,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘It means many more people will be prone to the flu this year.
‘This year, we expect the flu to kill at least 4,000 people which is the same number as deaths from suicide and the road toll combined’.
President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Harry Nespolen, said it is vital to get immunised as antibiotics don’t work on flu and there are not good antivirals for treating it
AUSSIES ELIGIBLE FOR FREE FLU VACCINE
– People aged 65 years and over (enhanced vaccine)
– Pregnant women
– Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older
– People aged six months or older with certain medical conditions which put them at risk of severe influenza
Pregnant women can receive their free vaccine in 2019 at any stage of their pregnancy to protect themselves and their unborn baby or babies.
An enhanced vaccine will again be made available for people aged 65 or over, given 75 per cent of influenza-associated deaths in 2018 occurred within that age bracket, according to government figures.
The NIP provides free vaccines for eligible people against 17 vaccine-preventable diseases including influenza, hepatitis B, whooping cough, measles and the recent addition of meningococcal ACWY for adolescents.
The immunisation rate for five-year-old Aussies is 94.67 per cent, nearing the herd immunity rate of 95 per cent, Mr Hunt said.
The Health Minister encouraged those over the age of six months to get vaccinated for the 2019 flu season.
A record 11 million Aussies got a flu jab in 2018.
The flu shots will be free for Australians aged over 65, pregnant women, indigenous people, and those at a greater medical risk of contracting the virus