A new four-strain flu vaccine, protecting against the nasty Brisbane virus, is being made available for at-risk Australians for free from this month by the Turnbull Government, to help them build up their immunity in time for the peak flu season due in August 2016.
Minister for Health Sussan Ley today announced the Federal Government had already begun rolling out the new 2016 vaccine, with $31.3 million made available for up to 4.48 million free doses of the new flu booster.
Ms Ley said the Turnbull Government had moved quickly to upgrade Australia’s flu vaccine stocks from three strains to four, after the arrival of the Brisbane flu strain last year led to 2015 being recorded as the worst flu season in years.
“Last year we saw the arrival of some nasty strains of flu, like Brisbane, that led to nearly one-in-five recorded influenza cases ending up in hospital, which is why we’ve acted decisively to boost the national booster in 2016,” Ms Ley said.
“While many of us view the flu as nothing more than an annual inconvenience, some recent strains have seen serious complications in normally healthy people and it’s important for the health, safety and productivity of not only yourself, but the nation, you get the flu shot before the flu gets you.”
Ms Ley encouraged all Australians to begin planning their flu shot sooner rather than later, with particular focus on ensuring high-risk groups like pregnant women and young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were aware a vaccination was available to them at no cost.
“There is a low level of knowledge the vaccine is safe and recommended during pregnancy. A flu shot reduces the risk of complications for both a woman and their unborn child, as well as providing your infant with protection in the first six months of their life.
“I am also aware of vaccination rates at less than 10% for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under five years of age. More concerning is these youngsters are twice as likely to be hospitalised as a result of infection and five times more likely to die.”
Last year, of more than 100,000 people diagnosed with confirmed influenza, some 17,000 were hospitalised – or nearly one-in-five – with an estimate seven percent of these requiring admission to an intensive care unit.
“This is a number we want to see lowered and the best way to achieve this is ensuring people in a ‘high risk’ category get their annual flu shot”, Ms Ley said.
Those at increased risk of severe influenza and its complications include; people aged over 65 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months to five years and older than 15 years, pregnant women and someone with a medical condition, such as severe asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Chris Baggoley advised this year’s free vaccine would protect against four strains of influenza virus, up from three in 2015.
“Last year’s trivalent* influenza vaccine did not cover a strain which was significant later in the Australian season. The 2016 quadrivalent* flu vaccine will protect against that additional strain, which is good news for the most vulnerable in the community.
“The Department of Health works closely with companies to secure supplies of vaccines each year, with priority given to ensuring all eligible people are able to access the free vaccine across the country throughout the season.
“Receiving the vaccine from April allows protection from the flu to develop well ahead of the peak transmission period, which usually falls around August”, Professor Baggoley said.
For more information about the 2016 seasonal influenza vaccine, visit www.immunise.health.gov.au/ or call the Immunise Australia Information line on 1800 671 811.
*Quadrivalent vaccination offers the same benefits as the trivalent vaccine, with an additional B-strain so four strains in total.