Flu vaccines and children: coming free to most Australian States and Territories in 2018

UPDATE #2.

Photo source: 170914-F-XA488-0004.JPG Photo By: Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera, JBER [14]

Back in October 2017, Queensland Health, Queensland Government (Australia) held a summit following on from our horrendous year of influenza.[1]

One of the announcements associated with that summit was news that the Queensland Government was going to fund free influenza vaccine for all children aged 6 months to under 5 years of age for the upcoming winter flu season of 2018.

The federal government currently provides free flu vaccine to a number of groups who are most at risk of severe complications from influenza infection.[2] These groups include:

  • Those 6 months and over with medical risk factors
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children 6 months to less than 5 years
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 15 years and over
  • Adults 65 years and over
  • Pregnant women

2018 will also include 2 high-dose vaccines for those in the 65 years and over group.[3,4]

The new inclusion of healthy young children is great news for a few reasons:

  • over the past 10 flu seasons, children have often had the highest rates of infection[10] 
  • young children have the highest rates of hospitalization for flu (figure below)[15,16,17]
  • children are effective transmitters of flu viruses – and viruses in general!

Examples of influenza infection hospitalization rates in Queenslanders. This highlights the high rates (see the line accompanying and the right-hand y-axis) among young children, which are higher than those for any other age group, including adults >65 years of age.
Graphs from Queensland Health, Queensland Government annual influenza reports.[10]

After Queensland’s 2017 announcement, New South Wales,[5] Victoria,[6] the Australian Capital Territory,[7] and South Australia (contingent on upcoming election outcome, now decided [13]) [9] announced similar State-funded programs.

Western Australia has had this program in place since 2008 [8] and Tasmania became a part of it in early April 2018.[12] Only the Northern Territory do not seem to have hopped on board in some way as yet.

The hope is that this could one day be federally funded. 

Removing one barrier to flu vaccination, namely its cost, may help increase uptake in this group and in doing so protect young lives, protect older lives and reduce the scale of seasonal epidemics.

A remaining problem here is flu vaccine uptake.

In Australia, flu vaccination rates are pretty low in some groups. In an early study reported late last year, only 27-37% of flu-infected or uninfected people had been vaccinated, respectively.[11] Drilling further into this study:

  • among those >65 years if age, vaccination rates were as high as 80%
  • among children < 15 years of age, only 6% were vaccinated. 6%!
  • among adults 15 to 64 years of age, 26%-35%

Having the vaccines funded for kids is a great step forward and so are higher dose vaccines for the elderly but we need to step up if we want to protect ourselves and those around us.

Flu vaccines are safer than a dose of the flu and while we wait for the Utopian universal flu vaccine to arrive, some protection from current formulations is far better than none.

Get the shot this year. It’s only about a month or so away. 

A flu vaccine is one annoying little prick that you won’t have to deal with later and that you could be extremely grateful for come winter. 

References…

  1. Government to hold summit following severe flu season
    http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/10/12/government-to-hold-summit-following-severe-flu-season
  2. National Immunisation Program Schedule: Flu (influenza) vaccines
    https://beta.health.gov.au/services/flu-influenza-immunisation-service
  3. Ground-breaking flu vaccines to protect millions of Aussies
    http://www.health.gov.au/internet/ministers/publishing.nsf/Content/health-mediarel-yr2018-hunt020.htm
  4. Here’s why the 2017 flu season was so bad
    https://theconversation.com/heres-why-the-2017-flu-season-was-so-bad-86605
  5. Free flu shots for NSW children under five after ‘horror’ season [23JAN2018]
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-23/free-flu-shots-for-nsw-children-under-five-after-horror-season/9352502
  6. Free flu vaccinations for Victorian kids under five after 2017 epidemic [24FEB2018]
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-24/free-flu-vaccinations-for-children-under-five-in-victoria/9481214
  7. Canberra children to get free flu vaccines after shocking 2017 season
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-27/canberra-children-to-get-access-to-free-flu-vaccines/9489330\
  8. History of vaccination in Australia.
    http://www.ncirs.edu.au/provider-resources/vaccination-history/
    PDF on Influenza
    http://www.ncirs.edu.au/assets/provider_resources/history/Influenza-history-December-2017.pdf
  9. SA election: Labor promises free flu vaccinations for young children [04MAR2018]
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-04/sa-election-labor-promises-free-flu-vaccination-under-five/9507220
  10. Influenza surveillance reporting, Queensland Health, Queensland Government
    https://www.health.qld.gov.au/clinical-practice/guidelines-procedures/diseases-infection/surveillance/reports/flu
  11. Low interim influenza vaccine effectiveness, Australia, 1 May to 24 September 2017
    http://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2017.22.43.17-00707
  12. Tasmania, Australia announce free flu vaccinations for children
    https://www.devdiscourse.com/Article/3311-tasmania-australia-announce-free-flu-vaccinations-for-children
  13. SA Government providing free flu vaccinations for children under five for the first time
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-22/government-providing-free-flu-vaccinations-for-sa-children/9685416
  14. http://www.jber.jb.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001811975/
  15. The effectiveness of influenza vaccination in preventing hospitalisation in children in Western Australia
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26549359
  16. Impact of influenza infection on children’s hospital admissions during two seasons in Athens, Greece
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21172380
  17. The effectiveness of trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine in children over six consecutive influenza seasons
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21195802
  18. Effectiveness of inactivated influenza vaccine in children aged 9 months to 3 years: an observational cohort study
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21106443
  19. Vaccine effectiveness against laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations among young children during the 2010-11 to 2013-14 influenza seasons in Ontario, Canada
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0187834
  20. Influenza and the Rates of Hospitalization for Respiratory Disease among Infants and Young Children
    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200001273420402
  21. Burden of interpandemic influenza in children younger than 5 years: a 25-year prospective study
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11807687
  22. The underrecognized burden of influenza in young children
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16822994

Updates…

  1. 09APR2018 Added Tasmania to the list
  2. 02MAY2018 Added another link to South Australia. Added image.

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