Health officials say Victorian GPs and pharmacies will have enough vaccines to meet growing demand as a free jab program begins to combat a “bad” influenza season.
From Wednesday through June 30, Victorians aged six months and older can get a free flu shot at one of more than 3,000 GPs and community pharmacies under the $33 million program.
“This is our first real flu season in two years,” Health Minister Martin Foley said on Tuesday.
“What this free program will do is protect Victorians and their families as they face a challenging winter.”
Reported flu cases in Victoria rose by 10,000 to 15,000 last week – more than the combined total of the previous two seasons when infections were curbed by the closure of international borders.
So far this year, 148 Victorians have been hospitalized with the flu, including 65 children, further straining the state’s health system.
“What we know is that two years without a season, low immunity, that this is a bad flu season,” he said.
Although some chemists may provide walk-in flu vaccine services, booking is recommended by Anthony Tassone, President of the Victoria Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
“We understand that members of the public can be tired and fed up with vaccines … but sadly the virus doesn’t care,” he said.
More than a million Victorians already eligible for a free vaccine – including children under the age of five, people over the age of 65, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people with serious medical conditions – have called for a free vaccine. has accepted.
The new program expands that pool to six million and Mr. Foley is confident there is “more than enough” stock available nationally to meet demand.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration reported that 16.8 million flu doses have been issued into the system, with 9.2 million set aside for the national immunization program, Mr Tassone said.
Dr Shea Wilcox, co-owner of Brunswick’s Inner North Medical Clinic, said the initiative was brilliant, but lamented the lack of forethought and potential supply issues.
“We will struggle to meet the demand. Too many workers are sick and the stock for flu shots will have to be pre-ordered,” he told the AAP.
His clinic has about 500 flu shots in stock, which is usually enough for four days but can expire in a single day.
“We are now booked until the end of the week, whereas yesterday we were not,” he said.
GPs and community pharmacies will be reimbursed for vaccines and offered an additional $2000 to roster more employees and extend opening hours.
Dr Wilcox said this would not be enough to cover their additional overheads.
Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania have announced free flu vaccination schemes similar to those in Victoria.
PSA national president Chris Freeman described state-based, time-limited programs as “a band-aid to the larger problem of funding arrangements” that have not kept pace with population health needs.