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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Push for Albanese to sign off on free flu vaccines for all Australians

The federal government has released 9 million flu vaccine doses for high-risk groups who receive it free under the national immunization program. A further 7.8 million doses are being provided for those happy to pay about $20 at their GP or pharmacist, or funded by their employer.

NSW and Queensland have announced free flu vaccines for all through GPs and pharmacists and Victoria is working on a similar plan, with other states and territories expected to follow.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said the states were “scrambling” to deal with a spike in flu cases that was exacerbating the crisis in emergency departments but “that’s not how we make immunization policy”.

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While he backed flu vaccines being free for everyone, Khorshid said cost was not the only barrier and a campaign was needed with “very strong messaging, like we had with COVID, encouraging people to do the right thing … not just for themselves, but for others in the community”.

Federal Health Department data shows there have been 38,000 lab-confirmed influenza cases across Australia by May 22, with 26,193 – more than two thirds – recorded in the preceding fortnight after case numbers tripled.

Dr Craig Dalton, the founder of the FluTracking infectious disease surveillance website, said the number of cases was similar to this time in 2019, the year Australia recorded more than 300,000 flu cases and 1080 deaths, although more people were being tested this year.

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A Health Department spokesperson said any extension of eligibility for the national immunization program’s (NIP) free flu vaccines would have to be guided by advice from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

“The PBAC is required to give consideration to the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the vaccine together with the advice from the ATAGI,” the spokesperson said. “Eligibility for influenza vaccines under the NIP remains unchanged for 2022.”

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