Influenza cases are soaring in parts of Australia as a result of colder weather, open borders and reduced immunity in the population.
Over the past two years, flu infection rates have been very low in the community due to border closures, lockdowns, masks and social distancing.
Recent data from Australia’s Communicable Diseases Network show three states alone — New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland — have already had far more cases this year than the entire country did last year.
Last year, influenza vaccine uptake was low, and it has been slow this year to date. At the time of writing only about 30% of eligible Australians have been immunised according to the Australian Immunisation Register. This is despite soaring numbers, high rates of absenteeism and extraordinary demand on our Emergency Departments. The good news is that most viral samples (about 98%) match the selection in the current vaccine.
States are offering free flu jabs to help bring down case numbers and take pressure off the health system.
At the time of writing:
New South Wales: Until the end of June people older than five years will be able to get a free jab at participating pharmacies and GPs.
Victoria: Until the end of June people older than five will be able to get a free jab at participating pharmacies and GPs.
Western Australia: Until the end of June people older than five will be able to get a free jab at state-run clinics and participating pharmacies and GPs.
Queensland: Until the end of June people older than five will be able to get a free jab at participating pharmacies and GPs.
South Australia: Until the end of June people older than five will be able to get a free jab at participating pharmacies and GPs
Tasmania: Until 6 July people ten years and older can get a free jab at participating pharmacies and six months and older at GPs and State Community Clinics
Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory: Vulnerable groups only are eligible for free jabs from participating pharmacies and GPs. In the ACT, the free jab for Canberra concession card holders will be offered at the territory’s government’s access and sensory vaccine clinic in Weston (bookings are essential).
According to NSW Health, the Commonwealth Government already provides free flu vaccine for those considered to be at higher risk of severe illness from the flu, including:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months of age
- children from six months to under five years of age
- people with serious health conditions (including severe asthma, diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, obesity, kidney, heart, lung or liver disease)
- pregnant women
- people aged 65 and over