Minister urges older Australians to get a free flu shot before winter hits
One in five Australians who are aged 65 years and older are putting themselves at risk of serious illness and even death by not taking advantage of the Government's free influenza vaccination campaign, Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, has said.
30 March 2003
Minister urges older Australians to get a flu shot before winter hits
One in five Australians who are aged 65 years and older are putting themselves at risk of serious illness and even death by not taking advantage of the Government's free influenza vaccination campaign, Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, said today.
Launching the 2003 free influenza vaccine program for older Australians, Senator Patterson said while the campaign had been successful since 1999 in reaching the majority of older Australians, there was still room for improvement in the number of people being protected against flu.
"In the first year of this program, 69 per cent of all Australians aged 65 years or over got a free flu shot. Since then that figure has climbed to 78 per cent coverage - or 1.9 million older Australians - but we can still do better," Senator Patterson said.
The Federal Government has provided $26 million to make the vaccine free for people 65 years and over this year.
Senator Patterson said while it was important for older Australians to get a free flu shot, she warned that the 2003 vaccine would not provide any protection against the new Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). SARS is a new disease and currently no vaccine has been developed to protect people from SARS.
There has not been a recorded case of SARS in Australia however Senator Patterson said the flu and its complications are very serious illnesses, particularly in older people. Around 1900 Australians die each year from flu and associated diseases and more than 90 per cent of those deaths are in people aged over 65 years.
"The World Health Organisation's influenza research centre in Melbourne has warned that three potentially fatal strains of influenza were likely to hit Australia this winter and they have predicted that this year could be a very bad flu season," Senator Patterson said.
"Vaccination provides the best protection possible against flu and I urge all older Australians to help reduce the toll that flu inflicts on our senior population every year by getting a free flu shot as soon as they can before winter hits.
"Families and friends of older Australians can do their bit too by encouraging senior Australians to visit their GP or immunisation provider to get their free flu shot. It's very important for their own health and to reduce the spread of influenza this winter."
Flu vaccines have been distributed to GPs and immunisation providers. People aged 65 years and over simply need to ask their GP or immunisation provider for a free vaccine. While the vaccine is provided by the Commonwealth at no cost, a consultation fee may be charged by GPs who do not bulk bill. There is no need for a prescription.
Senator Patterson said the Federal Government was relying on GPs to promote the free flu vaccine to older Australians. Literature and posters have previously been distributed to family doctors to encourage them to spread the message to 65-year-olds and over that a flu shot was an important investment in maintaining their good health.
In October 2002, the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee agreed to adopt World Health Organisation recommendations about the composition of this year's flu vaccine. The 2003 Australian influenza vaccine includes three virus strains - an A/Moscow like strain, an A/New Caledonia like strain and a B/Hong Kong like strain.
The B/Hong Kong like strain was not recommended for inclusion in the 2002 Australian flu vaccine and was responsible for several influenza outbreaks in Australia in 2002.
Media inquiries, contact Randal Markey, Media Adviser, Senator Patterson's office, 02 6277 7220.
Further information, Neil Branch, Department of Health and Ageing, 0412 258 449