The federal government has released 9 million flu vaccine doses to high-risk groups who receive it for free under the national immunization program. An additional 7.8 million doses will be provided to those who are happy to pay about $20 to their GP or pharmacist, or are funded by their employer.
NSW and Queensland have announced free flu vaccines to all through GPs and pharmacists, and Victoria is working on a similar plan, with other states and territories expected to follow.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said states are “clambering” to deal with a spike in flu cases that exacerbated the emergency department crisis, but “that’s not how we make vaccination policies”.
While he was in favor of flu vaccines being free for everyone, Khorshid said cost was not the only barrier and needed a campaign with “very strong messages, like we had with COVID, encouraging people to do the right thing.” …not just for themselves, but for others in the community.”
Federal Health Department data shows there were 38,000 lab-confirmed flu cases across Australia as of May 22, with 26,193 – more than two-thirds – in the last two weeks after the number of cases tripled.
dr. Craig Dalton, the founder of the FluTracking website for infectious disease monitoring, said the number of cases was comparable to this time in 2019, the year Australia recorded more than 300,000 flu cases and 1080 deaths, although more people were tested this year.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said any renewal of eligibility for the national immunization program (NIP) free flu vaccines should be guided by the advice of the Advisory Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits (PBAC).
“The PBAC, along with the advice of the ATAGI, should consider the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the vaccine,” the spokesperson said. “Eligibility for flu vaccines under the NIP remains unchanged for 2022.”