Evidence of 'strong early demand' for flu vaccines

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Health minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy say all Australians - and especially those in vulnerable groups or age brackets - should arrange vaccination against seasonal influenza during the month of April.

In a joint statement, they said, "Whilst flu vaccination does not prevent against COVID-19, a flu vaccination is critical to protecting the general health of Australians from influenza, which can take between 100 to 1,000 lives per year depending on the severity.

"Expert medical advice is that everyone aged six months and over should be vaccinated against influenza this year, and every year, to protect themselves and others in the community. "From 1 May 2020, all aged care workers and visitors must have been vaccinated against seasonal influenza to enter an aged care facility."

Dr Jonathan Anderson, Seqirus' Asia Pacific Head of Medical Affairs, told BiotechDispatch the company has seen "strong early demand" for flu vaccines.

"GPs and other providers like pharmacists are adapting to social distancing restrictions to ensure they can vaccinate while keeping patients safe," he added.

"The government fast-tracked approval of FluadQuad and Australia is the first country in the world to fund the vaccine," he said.

Minister Hunt and Professor Murphy said from 1 May, all aged care workers and visitors must have been vaccinated against flu to enter an aged care facility.

The federal government has invested $80 million in 13.5 million doses of the flu vaccine for the National Immunisation Program (NIP) in 2020, including a new quadrivalent vaccine, Seqirus' Fluad Quad, for people aged 65 years and over.

The NIP has over four million doses of Fluad Quad for those aged 65 years and older - enough to vaccinate close to 100 per cent of this group.

The NIP provides free flu vaccines to those most at risk, including pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older, people aged 65 and older, as well as people aged six months and older with certain medical risk factors. For the first time, the NIP will provide free flu vaccine to all children aged between six months and five years.

Flu vaccines are also available through state and territory programs and private providers including GPs and community pharmacy.

"Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there are strong national requirements for all Australians to stay home unless they are undertaking essential activities, however it is permissible to leave home for medical or other health care needs, including attending an appointment to get a flu vaccine," said Minister Hunt and Professor Murphy.

However, they said people in mandatory self-isolation due to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 should not leave their home to go and get a flu vaccination.

In addition, people who do not have COVID-19, or who are not a suspected case of COVID-19, are allowed to leave their home for a flu vaccination, but it is recommended they should only do so if they have phoned ahead, made sure their health care professional has vaccine available, and made an appointment with their healthcare professional.

They added, "Vaccinating against the flu will reduce the risk of a very dangerous double-up of flu and coronavirus - both diseases affecting the respiratory system."