Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will receive free seasonal influenza vaccines this winter, Minister for Health Sussan Ley announced today.

Ms Ley said as part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to closing the gap, removing the cost of the vaccination would improve access for Indigenous children aged between six months and five years.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are five times more likely to die from the flu than non-Indigenous children.

“Free access to the flu vaccine will mean this essential preventative health measure is now within the reach of the most at-risk Indigenous children,” Ms Ley said.

On average, approximately 5 Indigenous children aged under five die from the flu or pneumonia every year.

Ms Ley said the Abbott Government would invest $1.3 million this year and $4.5 million over the next five years to expand the flu vaccination program to include Indigenous children.

“Those who survive a severe flu can suffer lasting health complications including pneumonia, heart, blood system and liver problems,” Ms Ley said.

“Providing free flu vaccines to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in their formative years will help them to grow up healthy, happy and ready for school and be a positive step towards closing the gap in health outcomes.”

Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), essential vaccines – including seasonal influenza vaccinations – are provided free of charge to at-risk groups within the community.

When the 2015 influenza vaccine is available in April, parents of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged between six months and five years will be able to get their children vaccinated for free through general practitioners, community controlled Aboriginal Medical Services and immunisation clinics.

Free influenza vaccines are also available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over, people aged 65 years and over, pregnant women and people over six months who have specific medical conditions that increase their susceptibility to influenza.

The NIP is a joint initiative between the Australian Government and state and territory governments.

For more information, contact the Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811.