Flu season preparations begin
Free influenza vaccines are scheduled to be available from early April as the Federal Health Department ramps up preparations for the 2016 flu season.
The Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, has written to GPs and health services nationwide advising of plans to supply two age-specific quadrivalent influenza vaccines which will be available free of charge to eligible patients under the National Immunisation Program.
The advanced warning follows criticisms of delays in supplying flu vaccines last year.
The National Immunisation Program usually commences in March, but was held back until late April last year as manufacturers scrambled to produce sufficient stocks of the vaccines.
At the time, the Health Department blamed the delay on the decision to include vaccines for two new flu strains.
Last year was also the first time that single-dose quadrivalent vaccines were approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Professor Baggoley said this year the intention was to have the vaccines available from early April, “subject to…supply”.
The two vaccines being supplied under the National Immunisation Program are Sanofi’s FluQuadri Junior, for children younger than three years of age, and GlaxoSmithKline’s Fluarix Tetra, for people aged three years and older.
Under the Program, the vaccines will be available free of charge for pregnant women; Indigenous children aged between six months and five years; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and older; people aged 65 years and older; and those six months or older with a predisposition to severe influenza.
Professor Baggoley said both the quadrivalent vaccines and trivalent vaccines will also be available for purchase on the private market.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has urged the use of quadrivalent vaccines, but has advised that trivalent vaccines are an acceptable alternative, particularly where quadrivalents are not available.
Professor Baggoley will provide an update on the National Immunisation Program in mid-March as well as resources including promotional posters. Fact sheets for both providers and consumers will be available for download from the Immunise Australia website (http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/) around the same time.