Every year, thousands of Australians are hospitalised with influenza. It is a major cause of illness in our community and was attributed to around 57 deaths last year. The 2018 flu season was very mild compared to previous years. There were just under 50,000 laboratory confirmed cased, which is less than half of the annual average. The burden placed on hospitals and time off work was significantly lower than in previous years.
There is no way to predict how prevalent influenza will be in our community from year to year and it is important to remember that flu vaccines do not cover all the strains of flu that may be in the community. However flu vaccination remains our best protection and the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the flu will spread in the community.
Flu vaccination is recommended for all people aged over six months of age. Those who are not eligible to receive Government funded vaccinations are encouraged to purchase it on the private market. The Australian Government provides the vaccines for free for those who fit into any of the following categories:
- All people aged 65 years and over
- Anyone who suffers from a chronic illness or disease which puts them at higher risk of complications from influenza, such as diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, cardiac disease, immune disorders
- Children aged between six months and five years
- All Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people aged over six months
- Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
The best time to be vaccinated is from mid-April onwards and most clinics are expecting that stock will arrive in late April or early May. It takes around 2-3 weeks for immunity to develop following vaccination. The peak flu season tends to occur between June and September.
This year, the Government is funding a quadrivalent vaccine, covering the four likely dominant vaccine strains. The same vaccine is available for purchase for those who do not qualify for Government funded stock. There is also a trivalent vaccine which will be offered to those aged 65 years and over.
Some clinics and pharmacies will have stock of private vaccine available several weeks before Government stock arrives. If you are travelling, you may wish to consider getting vaccinated before you depart.