Indigenous children will benefit from the Federal Government’s free flu vaccine program for the first time this year as authorities brace for a virulent strain of flu heading for Australia.
The Government announced at the NACCHO parliamentary breakfast in Canberra yesterday that it would extend its free flu program to the children to help reduce flu deaths among the vulnerable group.
Health Minister Sussan Ley speaking at the NACCHO event said five Indigenous children died from the flu each year.
PHOTO ABOVE 1.Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley with Indigenous children receiving free flu vaccinations in Broken Hill, NSW last weekend 2.Making announcement with NACCHO Chair Matthew Cooke and CEO Lisa Briggs
Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), essential vaccines – including seasonal influenza vaccinations – are provided free of charge to at-risk groups within the community.
When the 2015 influenza vaccine is available in April, parents of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged between six months and five years will be able to get their children vaccinated for free through general practitioners, community controlled Aboriginal Medical Services and immunisation clinics.
Free influenza vaccines are also available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over, people aged 65 years and over, pregnant women and people over six months who have specific medical conditions that increase their susceptibility to influenza.
The NIP is a joint initiative between the Australian Government and state and territory governments.
For more information,
Contact the Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811
Extra information below by ABC NEWS medical reporter Sophie Scott and Alison Branley
“The key objective I believe of every Federal Health Minister when it comes to Indigenous health must be closing the gap in life expectancy and that starts in childhood,” Ms Ley said.
“It’s vital we include children under five in as many health initiatives as possible and flu vaccination is one of them.”
Indigenous children will be able to get a flu vaccine through their GP, Aboriginal Medical Services and immunisation clinics.
Health experts said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were twice as likely to be hospitalised from the flu as non-Indigenous children.
Free flu vaccines are already provided for vulnerable groups such as people aged over 65, pregnant women and people with a range of chronic conditions who are at increased risk from flu complications.
The announcement comes as Australian doctors predict a killer flu season.
In the northern hemisphere, flu rates were high and a deadly strain called H3N2 saw thousands of elderly people hospitalised.
More than 100 children have died in the United States.
“The objective is to be prepared,” Ms Ley said.
“You must take the flu seriously. As a nation, we’ll wait and see what happens with this year’s flu and hope it isn’t as bad as it was in the northern hemisphere.”
Flu vaccination program delayed to improve formula
This year’s Australian public flu immunisation program has been delayed so the flu vaccine can be reformulated from 2014 to replace two strains.
Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation chairman Dr Ross Andrews said the flu vaccine would include the same strain that caused the pandemic in 2009 and two new strains from the northern hemisphere.
“It’s been delayed because of new strains that have been added to the vaccine,” he said.
“There’s been a delay to make sure we’ve got sufficient supplies, so two suppliers providing the vaccine to make sure we’re covered.
“It was a bad year in the northern hemisphere, it was a reasonably bad year last year for us as a flu season.
“It was the worst year … since 2009 and it’s possible we might be heading again to another severe flu season.”
The vaccine will be available from GPs from April 20, he said.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported flu hospitalisation rates for people aged over 65 were the highest in 2014 since flu tracking began in 2005.
Doctors have urged vulnerable patients to be vaccinated as soon as the new vaccine is available.
Data from the Influenza Specialist Group shows almost 2,500 Australians have already had the flu this year, with the majority of cases in Queensland.