After two years of lockdowns and social distancing, the flu has returned with a vengeance.
Lab-confirmed cases of flu were among the worst on record in 2017, resulting in 29,000 hospitalizations and 745 deaths across Australia.
When the pandemic broke out, the flu all but disappeared as better hygiene measures were put in place and lockdowns restricted population movement.
But now the easing of COVID restrictions means people are on their way, and this has led to an increase in flu cases.
Now health authorities are advocating for Australians to get a flu shot to ease the growing pressure on hospitals.
And to encourage people to do so, the vaccine is now being offered for free. But its availability differs in the states and territories.
Who offers the shot for free?
New South Wales will offer a “month-long blitz” of free flu shots for anyone over six months from June 1 and ending June 30.
Previously, the vaccines were only available for free to certain high-risk groups, but Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said authorities were concerned about the surge in infections.
Queenslanders older than six months can get free flu vaccinations until June 30.
The decision was announced last week after an early and intense wave of Influenza A was detected across the state.
Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had made the “unprecedented” decision to protect people from low-level immunity.
Western Australians older than six months can get a free flu shot from June 1 to June 30.
The WA Department of Health’s “Free Jab June” initiative was announced on May 29 by Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson.
“We are already making vaccinations free for our most vulnerable, but by extending this program in June, we are making the flu shot more easily accessible to everyone,” she said.
All South Australians older than six months can get the flu shot for free until June 30.
In a statement, SA Prime Minister Peter Malinauskas said the free vaccines will be available in a program costing the state nearly $5 million.
Previously, in SA, only certain groups of people, such as young children and those with medical risk factors, were eligible for free flu vaccines.
However, due to the unique circumstances, SA is making flu vaccinations free for all residents through June 30.
Since last week 171,000 Tasmanians has had a flu shot and the vaccine is free for anyone aged five and over, but only at Community COVID & Flu Vaccination Clinics†
The state government hopes that people who come in for a free flu shot will also inform themselves about a COVID shot, as both are available at the same appointment.
Victoria, Northern Territory and the ACT
As it stands, the situation is different – or evolving – in Victoria, the Northern Territory and the ACT.
The Andrews administration has yet to announce a free flu vaccination schedule, but there are strong signs that such a program could be unveiled soon.
The Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association says it has been in talks with the Victorian government for the past week about a state-wide program.
Victorian president of the AMA, Roderick McCrae, said he would put more pressure on the government if it doesn’t announce a settlement by mid-week.
However, in the TO TRADE and Northern Territory you can only get a free flu shot if you belong to a vulnerable group.
In the ACT, that means it’s limited to children between the ages of six months and five, pregnant women, the over-65s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over six months of age, and people over six months of age with underlying medical conditions.
And in the Northern Territory, it’s free for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, vulnerable people and young children.
But Australian Medical Association NT president Rob Parker said the area should try to follow the example of other regions and offer residents free flu shots.
“Making it possible free for everyone would encourage more people, so that would be best [to do],” he said.
General practitioners, clinics or pharmacies? Where can I get a free flu shot?
NSW Health is urging people to book with GPs and pharmacies to get the shot.
Pharmacies can now dispense the vaccine to children aged five and over so that families can be vaccinated together.
dr. Michael Bonning, president of the Australian Medical Association NSW, asked people to respect their GPs and practice staff during the transition to the free flu vaccine program.
In queensland, you can get the injection at a pharmacy or general practitioner (the general practitioner can charge you for the appointment).
Reservations for the free vaccine can be made through pharmacists and general practitioners.
While there was initially some concern about whether there would be sufficient doses, Chris Owen, president of Pharmacy Guild Australia, Queensland, said there is a steady supply for now.
“We currently have sufficient stock and the wholesaler also has stock,” he says.
“With the announcement that other states are coming on board with free flu [vaccine] programs, the long-term outlook is not so secure.
In western australia, you can get the free flu vaccine at participating community pharmacies and state-run vaccination clinics.
Other providers, such as participating primary care practices, may also provide flu vaccinations for free.
Information on locations offering the free flu vaccine in June 2022 is available at: rollupforwa.com.au
In south australia, the free vaccination program has been welcomed by the state’s GPs.
Vaccination Coalition chairperson and Adelaide GP Rod Pearce said “everyone benefits from a flu vaccine”.
The free vaccines are available from pharmacies and general practitioners.
Children between the ages of five and nine can now also be vaccinated at the pharmacy.
Tasmanians can get free vaccines through a GP and some local clinics and pharmacies. View the list of clinics and times here.
Outside those clinics, the flu shot is free at general practices and pharmacies for: Children from six months to five years; All adults age 65 and older; Pregnant women (at any stage of your pregnancy); Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months old; All people over six months of age with chronic medical conditions.
People in other groups who do not want to go to a vaccination clinic will have to pay.
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