Taking steps to combat another deadly flu season

Amanda Lyons

15/04/2019 12:40:23 PM

Will six million free doses of flu vaccine be enough to curb the predicted thousands of deaths in 2019?

The Federal Government has announced a free national vaccination program of more than six million doses.

Australia’s 2017 flu season was an especially severe one, resulting in 1255 deaths, the highest recorded number the nation had ever seen.
But Professor Robert Booy, Chair of the Immunisation Coalition, has a sobering prediction of the disease’s nationwide impact in 2019.
‘This year, we expect the flu to kill at least 4000 people, which is the same number as deaths from suicide and the road toll combined,’ he said
This year’s reported cases of influenza have already far outstripped rates over the past five years, with March numbers – at just over 10,000 – already three times higher than at the same time last year. This is accompanied by eight reported deaths from influenza, seven in aged care facilities in New South Wales and one child in Victoria.
In response to the surge in influenza cases, the Federal Government has announced six million doses of flu vaccine to be administered free through the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
‘All Australians are encouraged to take up the opportunity to be vaccinated this year,’ Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
‘It’s important to get vaccinated against influenza every year, as the virus changes year to year.’
Rates of flu infection were far lower in 2018, which Minister Hunt believes was partially due to a high rate of vaccination against the disease.
However, Professor Booy, believes this may also be the reason behind lowered immunity within the community.
‘It means many more people will be prone to the flu this year and susceptible to getting it,’ he said.
Professor Booy also cited increased rates of overseas travel as a key factor behind this year’s high rate of summer flu cases.
‘Many Australians went to the US for holidays earlier in the year and brought the flu back, and in February school goes back and kids mix and spread the flu,’ Professor Booy said.

Seven of the eight reported Australian deaths from influenza in 2019 taken place in aged care facilities. 

Healthcare experts, including RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon, advise that mid-April is the optimal time to receive a flu vaccination.
‘Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, with the peak being August,’ Dr Nespolon said newsGP earlier this year.
‘Recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of the vaccination is critical to make sure you are not unprotected at the end of the season.’

People who are eligible to access free flu vaccine through the NIP include children, adolescents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pregnant women, and people over 65 years.
Minister Hunt is pleased with Australia’s current vaccination rates, and hopes they continue.
‘Our immunisation rates for Australians aged five years is amongst the highest in the world with currently 94.67% of all five-year-old children [vaccinated], nearing the herd immunity rate of 95%,’ he said.
‘Last year a record 11 million Australians got a flu shot and I hope that we reach another record this year.’
According to the Immunisation Coalition, there has been a total of 28,987 laboratory-confirmed notifications of influenza in Australia in 2019:

  • Australian Capital Territory – 219
  • New South Wales – 8552
  • Northern Territory –326
  • Queensland: – 8116
  • South Australia – 5164
  • Tasmania – 394
  • Victoria – 4627
  • Western Australia – 1589

flu influenza vaccine

newsGP weekly poll What areas of healthcare were you hoping would get more funding in this year's Federal Budget?

newsGP weekly poll What areas of healthcare were you hoping would get more funding in this year's Federal Budget?



Login to comment

Laurinda   23/05/2019 7:38:12 AM

Does anyone know the effectiveness of the vaccine this year? I’ve still had mine but not one news report mentions how many were vaccinated out of the deaths that occurred.