The State Government believes that its decision to fund free flu vaccines for children under 5 is directly responsible for an 85% fall in the number of reported flu cases.
Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), children under 5 only get free flu shots if they have medical risk factors. These include chronic lung disease (including severe asthma requiring frequent hospital visits), heart or kidney disease, impaired immunity, and some other conditions.
In February, well in advance of the flu season, the government announced it would spend $3.5 million on a free vaccination program for all Victorian children aged six months to five years.
Now, in the last month before the end of the flu season, there have been just under 5,000 reported flu cases, compared with over 35,000 last year. Flu cases in residential aged care facilities, the other high risk group, fell from 235 in 2017 to 15 this year.
Last year was a particularly bad year for the flu, as an unexpected flu strain proved resistant to the prepared vaccines. While this must be a factor in the reduction of cases this year, the 1.7 million doses of vaccine administered in Victoria has made a significant difference.
Minister for Health Jill Hennessy says the government will continue to issue free vaccinations to children in the future. She also expressed a hope that the Federal Government “will eventually come to the party and fund a national immunisation program for the high-risk cohort”.
Free vaccinations are provided by doctors and community health clinics.
For more information about influenza and immunisation visit the Immunise Australia website at www.immunise.health.gov.au.