Free flu shot for kids

In­fluenza vac­cine to be added to na­tional scheme

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JANE HANSEN

EV­ERY child aged from six months to five years old will get a free flu shot from next year.

The in­fluenza vac­cine will be added to the Na­tional Im­mu­ni­sa­tion Pro­gram fol­low­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion by the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Ben­e­fits Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee.

Fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt, who will an­nounce the move today, said: “From early next year, for the first time, all Aus­tralian chil­dren aged six months to five years — not just those with med­i­cal risk fac­tors — will be able to re­ceive the sea­sonal flu vac­cine free of charge.”

Un­til now only high-risk groups, in­clud­ing Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple, those with med­i­cal con­di­tions, preg­nant women and peo­ple aged over 65 could re­ceive the vac­cine for free.

Mr Hunt said the sea­sonal in­fluenza vac­cine would not be in­cluded in the re­quire­ments for ac­cess­ing Child Care Ben­e­fits, the Child Care Re­bate or Fam­ily Tax Ben­e­fits un­der No Jab, No Pay rules.

“The in­fluenza vac­cine is sea­sonal and there­fore not avail­able all year round. In ad­di­tion, chil­dren will be­come el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive the vac­cine at dif­fer­ent times, which may not align with the other rou­tine child­hood im­mu­ni­sa­tion sched­ule points or the in­fluenza sea­son,” Mr Hunt said.

There have been 245,505 cases of lab­o­ra­tory-con­firmed in­fluenza so far this year, five times the rate of last year, and 587 deaths.

Of those, 98,376 flu cases and 16 deaths were in peo­ple un­der the age of 20.

Im­mu­ni­sa­tion Coali­tion chair­man Pro­fes­sor Robert Booy said in­fluenza af­fected chil­dren un­der five more se­ri­ously be­cause they had lim­ited ex­po­sure to the virus.

“Chil­dren un­der five are naive to the in­fluenza virus, so they of­ten get a higher vi­ral load, get sicker and they are more likely to trans­mit,” Prof Booy said.

“They are mini bioter­ror­ists that trans­mit like crazy to par­ents, sib­lings and day­care. Healthy chil­dren also ac­count for half of all hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions for in­fluenza.”

The ad­di­tion of the vac­cine co­in­cides with the re­lease of the lat­est im­mu­ni­sa­tion rates, which have now hit a record high of 94.85 per cent.

Olivia Cheung’s triplets Win­ston, Ash­ton and Tri­ton were born eight weeks early two years ago, so the Maroubra mother had them vac­ci­nated against in­fluenza this year.

“I had them first vac­ci­nated in May and again last month be­cause they seem to pick up ev­ery­thing,” Ms Cheung said.

“And the flu af­fects the younger ones more. I’ve seen other mums hav­ing to take their chil­dren to hospi­tal this year.”

FIVE hun­dred chil­dren a day are be­ing vac­ci­nated after their par­ents were sent a warn­ing email from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment that their fam­ily pay­ments would be cut off un­less they got vac­ci­na­tion jabs.

We are closer than we’ve ever been to ‘ herd im­mu­nity’, with the num­ber of fully vac­ci­nated fiveyear-olds at its high­est level ever at 94.85 per cent.

That is a di­rect re­sult of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s “No Jab, No Pay” law, which re­sulted from The Sun­day Tele­graph’s six-year cam­paign to lift vac­ci­na­tion rates.

We de­manded the gov­ern­ment stop giv­ing fed­eral Fam­ily Tax Ben­e­fit A pay­ments to par­ents who fail to vac­ci­nate their kids.

Tony Ab­bott as prime min­is­ter made this hap­pen and his suc­ces­sor Scott Mor­ri­son, along with Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt, went fur­ther by mak­ing the penalty ap­ply in real time.

For the past year, par­ents who fall be­hind on the vac­cine sched­ule get an in­stant re­minder from the gov­ern­ment, warn­ing they have two months to catch up or they’ll lose the pay­ments from the fort­nightly cy­cle. Pre­vi­ously, the penalty kicked in only at the end of the fi­nan­cial year.

The re­sult has been spec­tac­u­lar — 500 chil­dren vac­ci­nated each day, 174,000 in the past fi­nan­cial year alone.

Aus­tralia is now tan­ta­lis­ingly within reach of herd im­mu­nity — de­fined by ex­perts as 95 per cent — which would mean dis­eases like whoop­ing cough and measles are un­able to spread within the com­mu­nity and kill vul­ner­a­ble un­vac­ci­nated peo­ple like new­borns and cancer pa­tients.

Today we have another ex­cit­ing rev­e­la­tion with Mr Hunt to make the flu vac­cine free for chil­dren aged five and un­der in time for next win­ter, after its ap­proval by the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Ben­e­fits Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee.

And another de­vel­op­ment in our on­go­ing cam­paign for the meningo­coc­cal B vac­cine to be made freely avail­able to pre­vent more ba­bies dy­ing: Mr Hunt has re­vealed he not only urged the drug’s man­u­fac­turer to hurry up in reap­ply­ing to the PBAC for ap­proval, but has also urged the PBAC to move as fast as pos­si­ble in con­sid­er­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion and vowed to put it straight on the sched­ule as soon as its ap­proved.

We hope to bring you the good news that meningo­coc­cal B is a night­mare of the past very soon.

Olivia Cheung had her triplets, Ash­ton, Tri­ton and Win­ston, vac­ci­nated twice against the flu this year. Pic­ture: Sam Ruttyn

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