Australians will be the first in the world to access a new flu vaccine which will be made available and free for citizens aged 65 and above.
The vaccine will be funded through the Federal Government’s National Immunisation Program (NIP).
Medical experts say protecting older Australians against the normal strains of winter influenza was particularly vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, but immunise against four strains of swine and avian flu which are already in the Southern Hemisphere.
Doctors say getting one of these flu strains and coronavirus would be very dangerous for the over-65s and other at risk groups, such as pregnant women and the chronically ill.
It is one of the few available strategies to try and minimise additional pressure on the Australian health system and intensive care units during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Older Australians will be able to access the four strain influenza vaccine named FLUAD® Quad1
The Federal Government to ensure its availability for the 2020 influenza season.
The Federal Health Department’s Therapeutic Goods Administration fast-tracked the approval of the vaccine the viral strains already in circulation in early 2020.
The World Health Organisation has made recommendations “for influenza vaccines in the 2020 southern hemisphere influenza season”.
Associate Professor Michael Woodward said that this was not the year you want to get flu.
Director of Aged Care Research and the Head of Memory Clinic at Austin Health, he said it was also not the time to be complacent about the significant impact of influenza on the Australian health system, and intensive care units.
“Vaccinating for flu is always important – but this year it will be particularly critical, and especially for older Australians and those with chronic diseases,” Professor Woodward said.
“While the flu vaccine does not protect against the COVID-19 virus, immunising against the flu – particularly in high-risk groups like those aged 65 and over – may help to reduce the risk of diagnostic uncertainty between flu and COVID-19 and reduce pressure on our health system and ICUs.”
Influenza can have a substantial negative impact on adults 65 years and older with higher hospitalisation and death rates compared to younger, healthier adults. 3
Between 1997 and 2016, 80 per cent of influenza reported deaths in Australia were in people aged 65 and over eight years.