Where are the extra flu shots?

The federal health minister says an extra 3.5 million doses of the influenza vaccine have been made available and the Immunisation Coalition reports that verified flu cases to date are at record low levels. So why are many Australians – especially vulnerable older Australians – reporting frustrating delays in being able to get their flu shots?

Danielle Dowell, executive director of commercial operations for CSL-owned Seqirus, the only local manufacturer of flu vaccines in Australia, says there has been “extremely strong early demand for flu vaccines across all channels – GPs, pharmacies and other immunisation providers”.

Health minister Greg Hunt says: “The government has already secured a record 8.6 million vaccines for the National Immunisation Program (NIP), including more than four million doses of Fluad Quad, which is recommended for people aged 65 and over.”

But GPs have complained they are not getting enough vaccines to meet demand and have accused pharmacies of monopolising supply.

Australian Medical Association SA president Chris Moy says there have been widespread complaints by GPs that they are unable to obtain private flu shots for their patients, and that pharmacies seem to have ample supplies.

“A lot of my colleagues are really upset that they couldn’t get a hold of it,” he told The New Daily.

“There is a conflict of interest with the sector dispensing the vaccination, because it gives the opportunity to upsell other medications at the same time and upsell other products.

“As a doctor, you don’t have that conflict because you’re not selling anything.”

YourLifeChoices members from many corners of the country are reporting difficulties in getting their annual jab.

Member GoldenOldie wrote: “Have been trying to arrange flu shots for 3 weeks now, but our clinic (in northern NSW) cannot get vaccine delivered.”

Blossom: “Doctors here in Adelaide did not receive enough vaccine and have to wait for another batch to arrive, hopefully in early May.”

EmeraldGlen: “Same with me in FNQ [far north Queensland]. My husband was able to get his flu shot 4 weeks ago as he is over 65… I couldn’t have mine at the time as I was under 65…”

Similar shortages have been reported in Tasmania.

Ms Dowell said: “It’s important to note that the supply of these additional doses won’t be instantaneous – our team will be working hard to manufacture doses, but patients should phone their clinic or pharmacy ahead of time to ensure the vaccines have arrived and are available.

“We will be working closely with distributors across the country to make sure the vaccines are available as soon as possible, in areas of high demand.”

The number of confirmed flu infections in January and February was higher than average, according to official government figures, prompting fears of a monster flu season coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 7002 confirmed cases of flu in February but just 95 to mid-April. In 2019, a similar number of cases in February led to 18,667 infections in April.

The University of Newcastle’s weekly online FluTracking survey of about 70,000 people is also reporting “historically low” levels of flu-like illness.

The steep drop is being attributed to the distancing and hygiene measures in place to control COVID-19.

Kim Sampson, chief executive of the Immunisation Coalition, which receives some funding from the major vaccine manufacturers said: “We were thinking, here we go, it could be a big one.”

Australians eligible for a free vaccine under the NIP include:

  • All people aged 65 years and over
  • People aged six months and over with medical conditions that increase the risk of influenza disease complications
  • Those aged six months to less than five years (this cohort is newly eligible in 2020)
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over
  • Pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy).

Have you had your flu shot or are you still waiting?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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