All Australians should be offered free flu vaccines to prevent ‘disaster’, experts say | Health

Medical professionals are ramping up calls for the flu vaccine to be made free nationwide, saying governments needed to think about the coming flu peak as a looming “disaster” as it coincides with ongoing high rates of Covid infection.

Queensland has already made the jab free amid soaring influenza rates in the state. The New South Wales government is taking steps to follow suit amid unprecedented demand for its ambulance and hospital services.

Hospitalizations are doubling every week in Queensland. NSW, Victoria, and central Australia are also experiencing large outbreaks of two circulating influenza strains, H1 and H3, with infection rates particularly high among young people.

The deputy director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Prof Ian Barr, said the vaccination should be free to indicate the severity of the early influenza season.

Only 24% of adults and 9% of children under five have received a flu vaccine.

“The Covid vaccination has set a precedent… it sends a message the government thinks it’s a priority,” Barr said.

“We need something to motivate people to get vaccinated this year, we’ve got high rates, and it’s no use waiting three or four weeks to get out there.”

Barr said flu season had arrived a month or two earlier than normal this year, with a peak expected “well before” August.

“There’s a two-year gap when [we] haven’t been exposed, and we know immunity wanes, especially if you’re not vaccinated,” he said.

“What we don’t normally see is quite so many kids in the hospital, but a lot of this is due to high numbers. There’ll be deaths and undoubtedly increased pressure on hospitals.”

The Australian Medical Association’s vice president, Dr. Chris Moy, said hospitals were in a “potentially desperate” situation as Australia entered its first flu season with Covid.

Almost 11,000 cases of the flu were recorded in Australia up to 8 May, compared with 240 points at the same time last year.

“, We’re worried,” Moy said. “This is the first flu season for three years while our hospitals are already full.”

As a doctor, I cannot stress the importance of getting your flu vax. Some hospitals now see a 500% increase in cases, particularly among older and young ones. Please book with your GP or pharmacist when you can. Don’t delay.


— Dr Sandro Demaio (@SandroDemaio) May 23, 2022

The flu season was moderate in the northern hemisphere but lingered with another spring peak. Moy said that cases of the two circulating strains were going up “like a straight line” but were about 12% less than in 2019.

“There’s been a shift,” he said. “It seems to be in the younger age group, 15 to 24-year-olds, where normally the high point is amongst the older age group.

“It could be post-Covid lockdowns young ones are living it up or characteristics of the virus itself, but there’s a possibility we’ll have younger people in hospital with the flu who may even die.”

Moy said it was important to get people vaccinated “as much as possible” and to top up Covid vaccinations.

A study published in Nature found that receiving a flu jab could help protect against Covid by boosting your natural immune response.

Moy said making the flu vaccination free for Australians was a “significant consideration”, particularly as the National Immunisation Program didn’t cover young people.

Under the program, the vaccine is free for over 65s, children under five, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people with chronic medical conditions.

“[Making it free] might be much less than the cost of beds, and the flu vaccine appears to be quite effective,” Moy said.

“I think of it as layers; part of your hospital has to look after routine care, winter it gets taken over by flu, now we’ve got Covid on top pushing out regular care.

“It’s quite a scary prospect. We should be thinking about this from a disaster perspective.”

The acting general secretary of the NSW Nurses and midwifery federation, Shaye Candish, said the staff was “severely understaffed and under-resourced” to deal with the flu even before Covid-19.

“[Flu season] already burdens members’ work substantially,” she said.

“We’re dealing with the ongoing combination of Covid and flu infections … we continue to have staff furloughed … we’re incredibly concerned.”

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There have been 14,812 reported flu cases in NSW, and 3,349 people have presented to emergency departments with influenza-like illnesses. In Victoria, there have been 10,663 cases. South Australia Health said there had been 727 flu notifications between 1 January and 14 May this year, compared with 12 points for the same period last year.

Candish said hospitals were “beyond capacity” before an expected peak, and expanding the availability of the free flu vaccination would ease the pressure.

The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Karen Price, said the circulating strain seemed “particularly aggressive and virulent” and backed free vaccines for all.

“Across Australia, we must significantly increase flu vaccine uptake, and we haven’t got a moment to lose, especially considering the strains on our healthcare system.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.