Victoria and South Australia could be the last Australian states to release the flu vaccine, as the return of the virus threatens to put further strain on “stalled” health systems.
Queensland has made the flu shot free for people six months and older until the end of June, and NSW is considering a similar scheme.
Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews says health officials are considering extending access to beyond the compromised health card holders and children under the age of five.
“We are working with the Pharmacy Guild and AMA (Australian Medical Association) on that matter,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
South Australian Prime Minister Peter Malinauskas said the government is actively considering getting free flu vaccines to everyone, but they want to know the cost and likely impact.
“We want to make sure that if we release the vaccine, that will actually drive adoption,” he said.
According to the Australian Immunization Register, NSW administered 1,860,506 flu vaccinations from March 1 to May 22, followed by Victoria (1,655,169), Queensland (1,138,394), WA (537,733), SA (527,532) and Tasmania (160,035).
Mr Andrews wants to lift his state’s jab rate as the nation faces its first real winter flu season for the first time in three years after COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures, and will urge the newly appointed Albanian government to make a financial contribution .
Anthony Tassone, the Australian president of the Pharmacy Guild of Victoria, confirmed it was in talks with the state government and the health department about increasing flu vaccine uptake.
“The guild supports all measures that can increase access to vaccinations for the public,” he told AAP.
“While we appreciate that members of the public can have vaccine fatigue and they’re a little bit over it, the flu virus doesn’t matter.”
The AMA generally supports increasing access to flu vaccines, especially when about 3,000 people across Australia are hospitalized with COVID-19.
“It’s about minimizing the strain on the hospital system,” said AMA Vice President Chris Moy.
“We’ve never had such a massive low of COVID patients in the hospital while we had quite the flu season.”
Australians ages 14 to 25 have the most lab-confirmed flu cases this year, according to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System.
dr. Moy said the group was not eligible for a free flu vaccine under the National Immunization Program unless they had underlying health conditions.
Getting more of that age group vaccinated would help fewer of them get sick and potentially reduce the spread of the flu, he said.
It comes as a poll by the Royal Children’s Hospital’s National Child Health Poll, showing that parents have misconceptions about the flu vaccine, including beliefs that it isn’t necessary or effective.
The poll found that one in three parents are not aware that flu can make children seriously unwell and 43 percent believe it is not as important as the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pediatrician Anthea Rhodes, director of the RCH survey, said flu cases are rising rapidly, making it important for children to be vaccinated.
“After going through so much effort to protect everyone from COVID-19, we don’t want to drop the ball at the last minute and let the flu sneak in the back door and make our kids really unwell,” said Dr Rhodes.
She said children under the age of five are most likely to be hospitalized because of complications affecting the brain and lungs.
“The flu vaccine is not only effective, it is also safe and recommended. It is also free for children between the ages of six months and five years,” she said.
Australian Associated Press
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