Queensland government to combat flu outbreak with free vaccine program

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The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has welcomed the Queensland Government's announcement of no-cost flu vaccinations for residents of the state from Saturday.

It is the second year in a row Queensland has launched a free flu vaccine program to combat an outbreak. The free flu vaccine will be available at GPs and pharmacies until 31 August.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the program will cost $5 to $10 million.

The decision follows the recent death of an 11-year-old girl with flu and the admission of dozens of children to hospital. So far, Queensland has recorded over 51,000 cases of flu, around 20 per cent higher than at the same time last year.

“Health experts have told us that this strain of Influenza B is particularly severe, and that vaccination rates in Queensland are low," said Premier Palaszczuk. “I don’t want there to be any barriers to getting the flu jab, which is why I am reinstating free flu vaccinations for all Queenslanders."

PSA Queensland President Shane MacDonald said the move would encourage more Queenslanders to make influenza vaccination a part of their regular health care.

“All Queensland age groups have the lowest or second-lowest influenza vaccination coverage of any state or territory this year,” Mr MacDonald said.

“Particularly at risk are young children, of which less than 20 per cent are vaccinated against influenza in 2023. Vaccination rates among Queenslanders aged 5 to 15 years are the lowest in Australia, sitting at just 11.1 per cent.

“We have already seen the deadly impact of low vaccination rates across the country, and if we don’t act now it will only get worse.

“Removing cost barriers and giving Queenslanders greater access to vaccines through community pharmacies is a great first step to improving vaccine uptake,” said Mr MacDonald.

Under the National Immunisation Program, flu vaccinations are funded for, children aged six months to less than five years old, ll Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over, people aged 6 months and over with certain medical conditions that increase their chance of severe influenza and its complications, pregnant women, and people aged 65 and over.

Less than 20 per cent of Queenslanders aged 15 to 50 have received the flu vaccine, the lowest of any jurisdiction.

“Pharmacists are able to vaccinate patients 6 months and over, meaning many families can come into their pharmacy together for their flu vaccines," continued Mr MacDonald.

“With the flu season now in full swing, we need to do everything we can to protect Australian children by increasing access to vaccination and providing Queensland families with optimal protection against this deadly disease.

“As pharmacists we have demonstrated the crucial role we continue to play in protecting the health of Australians. We must do better than this to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

“Pharmacists are practising in almost every community from Brisbane to Cape York, supporting the health and wellbeing of our patients.

“Our message to all Queenslanders is simple, visit your local pharmacist and get your influenza vaccine,” added Mr MacDonald.