Free flu shots for vul­ner­a­ble

1100 flu fa­tal­i­ties na­tion­wide last year

Geelong Advertiser - - NEWS - TOM MINEAR and BRIGID O’CON­NELL

AL­MOST 50,000 Vic­to­ri­ans bat­tled the flu dur­ing last year’s deadly sea­son, which claimed more than 200 lives.

Alarm­ing new data shows the flu struck down a quar­ter of a mil­lion Aus­tralians across the coun­try dur­ing the worst sea­son in a decade, with 54,000 pa­tients aged over 65.

Health au­thor­i­ties are now urg­ing peo­ple to get the in­fluenza vac­cine, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ing 4.5 mil­lion free shots to those who are most at risk, in­clud­ing older Aus­tralians and peo­ple with chronic con­di­tions.

There were 1100 flu-re­lated deaths across the coun­try last year, 90 per cent of whom were aged over 65, in­clud­ing 10 peo­ple in a hor­ror out­break at a Wangaratta aged-care home.

Fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt said two Aus­tralian-first vac­cines would be made avail­able this year for peo­ple over 65 to pro­vide them longer-last­ing tar­geted pro­tec­tion from deadly flu strains.

The Na­tional Cen­tre for Im­mu­ni­sa­tion Re­search’s head of clin­i­cal re­search Pro­fes­sor Robert Booy said while this flu sea­son was pre­dicted to be less se­vere than last win­ter, it was vi­tal that as many healthy adults were vac­ci­nated to boost herd im­mu­nity.

“If we can get enough peo­ple who are healthy, be that chil­dren or adults, they will be- come stops to the trans­mis­sion of the virus, and there­fore pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble,” Prof Booy said.

A sur­vey re­leased this week of 15,000 Aus­tralians — con­ducted on be­half of the Im­mu­ni­sa­tion Coali­tion, an in­de­pen­dent net­work of im­mu­nol­o­gists and GPs — found just over half of adults do not in­tend to have a flu shot this year. Men in their 50s and 60s are most likely to be­lieve the flu shot doesn’t work, while just a quar­ter of adults sur­veyed say they get the jab ev­ery year.

Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Pro­fes­sor Bren­dan Mur­phy urged peo­ple to get vac­ci­nated from mid-April to en­sure they were pro­tected be­fore the peak June-Septem­ber flu sea­son.

“Get­ting vac­ci­nated is not only safe, but it is the most ef­fec­tive way of pro­tect­ing your­self,” Pro­fes­sor Mur­phy said.

The state gov­ern­ment is also pro­vid­ing free vac­ci­na­tions to kids aged under five in a $3.5 mil­lion pro­gram.

“If we can get enough peo­ple who are healthy, be that chil­dren or adults, they will be­come stops to the trans­mis­sion of the virus, and there­fore pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble.” PRO­FES­SOR ROBERT BOOY

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