Large increase in demand for flu vaccine leads to rationing in VIC, NSW
A huge increase in demand for the influenza vaccine across Australia has led to rationing in Victoria and New South Wales.
The Federal Health Department said 5.1 million doses of the vaccine were brought into the country this year, a record number, reflecting an increase of almost 10 per cent over last year.
According to the states and territories, there has been a 25-30 per cent uptake in demand for the vaccine.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) released a total of 9.6 million doses to the private market and to state immunisation programs.
Australia’s acting chief medical officer, Dr Tony Hobbs, is working to ensure more vaccines are brought into the country and more doses of the vaccine for the most at risk “will soon be made available,” the federal Department of Health said in a statement.
Victoria’s health department is rationing all types of influenza vaccines due to an extreme shortage and all states are working with the Commonwealth to try and get more.
The shortage is blamed on an “unprecedented demand” for vaccines this year, the Victorian Government said, after a bad flu season in 2017.
Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy called on federal government officials to secure more vaccine.
“We want the flu vaccine to be available for all and that’s why we’ve called upon the Federal Government to get more assertive and organised about ensuring a solid supply,” she said.
New South Wales chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the supply of vaccine for children between six months and three years of age is not affected. But other groups are impacted.
“We are advising anyone who is yet to have the vaccine to call ahead to their GP,” she said.
So far influenza cases in New South Wales are low, Dr Chant said.
Dr Hobbs said the Commonwealth was working “very hard” to source extra doses.
“There are 93,000 extra doses of the trivalent vaccine coming in for the over 65s,” he said.
“That’s arrived already and will be released by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in the coming days.
“In early June there will be an extra 144,000 doses of the quadrivalent vaccine for the general population.”
Patients frustrated in efforts to have the jab
Charlotte Downs, a mother-of-two from Rainbow, in northern Victoria, is frustrated she cannot get the vaccine for her kids, aged five and seven.
She said despite getting advice from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, local doctors and pharmacists don’t think they need it and there’s a shortage of the vaccine.
“I really just don’t want them to get sick. My daughter does have a long history of being unwell and catching every bug that goes round,” she said.
“Especially after last season where so many people died and people my age and people my kids’ age died and I don’t want that for my kids.”
Myles McNeil-Shaw, 56, of Melbourne, has a heart condition which has put him in a higher risk category for complications from influenza.
“So I tried to make a time when I could have it [the vaccination] and I rang them up and said can I make a time to come in and have the flu shot and they said that unfortunately they had none available for anybody under 65 years of age,” he said.
“And that I’d have to call back in a couple of weeks and try again.”
Mr McNeil-Shaw said it was frustrating not knowing when the vaccine would be available.
Peak flu season in July, August
Several state and territory governments are offering free flu jabs to children between six months and five years old, including in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT.
In 2017 about 4,000 children under five were diagnosed with the illness in Victoria.
Generally the peak flu season is around July and August but it is variable.
People over 65 can get a new enhanced vaccine which triggers a strong immune response and are more potent than the regular vaccine.
Last year about 1,000 people over the age of 65 died due to complications related to influenza so the Federal Government has ordered aged care homes to offer their staff a flu vaccine this year.
The Australian Government recommends everyone from six months old wishing to protect themselves against the flu should get immunised.
Getting a flu shot also helps protect others who are too sick or too young to be vaccinated, as the flu is less likely to spread among the population.