Australians at risk from influenza are encouraged to obtain free vaccination, with more than six million doses of the latest influenza vaccines available under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) in 2019.
The vaccines are currently being distributed to all states and territories. The exact release date will vary slightly according to state and local distribution arrangements.
People aged 65 years and over, people with certain medical conditions and pregnant women are eligible for a free influenza vaccine. The vaccine is safe for mother and baby at any stage of pregnancy.
For the first time this year, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over can also obtain the vaccines through the NIP.
Influenza is a serious illness and can be fatal. I encourage everyone who is eligible to obtain their free vaccine under the NIP to protect themselves from seasonal flu this year.
Nationally, the number of influenza cases notified in the inter-seasonal period has been greater than during the same period in the last 5 years.
Since the beginning of 2019, the number of influenza cases have continued to steadily increase. As at 12 April 2019, over 28,000 laboratory confirmed cases have been reported, which is over twice the number of cases reported over the same period in 2018.
This year there is a new A strain (H3N2) and a new strain for the B Victoria linage. Influenza virus strains included in the 2019 seasonal influenza vaccines are:
- A (H1N1): an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09 like virus
- A (H3N2): an A/Switzerland/8060/2017 (H3N2) like virus
- B: a B/Colorado/06/2017 like virus (not included in the trivalent vaccine)
- B: a B/Phuket/3073/2013 like virus
Four different quadrivalent influenza vaccine brands are being supplied under the Program in 2019 for people aged under 65 years. These are Afluria Quad® (Seqirus), Flu Quadri® and Flu Quadri Junior® (Sanofi) and Fluarix Tetra® (GSK).
Elderly people are most at risk. Over 65 year olds accounted for 75 per cent of influenza-associated deaths in 2018.
To increase their protection, the enhanced vaccine, Fluad® (Seqirus) is being provided to this age group through the NIP.
Annual vaccination is recommended for anyone six months of age and over, with those not eligible under the program able to purchase the vaccine on the private market.
Yearly vaccination is important because the virus changes each year and we know that the protection provided by the previous year’s vaccine diminishes over time.
Protection against influenza is highest in the first three to four months after vaccination. Getting vaccinated in April or May allows protection during the peak influenza transmission period, which runs from around June to September in most parts of Australia.
For more information visit the Department of Health immunisation website at: www.health.gov.au/immunisation