Crucial habit to protect from coronavirus
NSW pharmacists will be allowed to give young people vaccinations against the flu, as fears are raised the upcoming flu season could exacerbate the spread and effect of coronavirus.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant made the announcement today, enabling pharmacists to give vaccinations to people as young as 10.
Previously pharmacists were only able to provide vaccinations to those older than 16.
"This season, particularly, everybody should be ensuring they get out and have a flu shot … no doubt about it," Mr Hazzard told reporters.
Mr Hazzard said giving families more options to protect their children against flu was sensible, with the likely convergence of a coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) pandemic with winter flu.
"Last year was the longest flu season on record and in 2017 more than 650 people in NSW died from flu-related conditions, and now we have COVID-19," Mr Hazzard said in a statement.
"While the flu vaccine won't combat COVID-19, it will help reduce the severity and spread of flu, which can lower a person's immunity and make them susceptible to other illnesses.
"By allowing pharmacists to administer privately purchased flu vaccines to people aged 10 years and over, families now have more choice when booking-in for a flu jab".
He said certain groups in particular should get the flu vaccine, including those aged over 65, under the age of five, pregnant women, and perhaps those who have had other respiratory issues such as asthma.
Many of these are eligible for free vaccines.
Last year, around 2.5 million doses of government-funded flu vaccines were distributed across NSW. This year, it is expected more than 2.6 million doses will be made available.
Dr Kerry Chant said this year's flu vaccine is expected to be available from mid-April and she urged everyone who could be vaccinated to do so.
"Each year in NSW, we have hundreds of flu-related deaths and many of those who die were infected by the people they know and love who weren't vaccinated," Dr Chant said.
"Not only do you risk your own life by not getting vaccinated against flu but you can potentially spread the infection to others more vulnerable, like children and the elderly."
But Mr Hazzard also stressed the most important thing that people could do to avoid infection from viruses like the flu or coronavirus was to wash their hands using hand wash or soap.
"Constantly be washing your hands in the next few months would help us all," he said.
The announcement comes as a retired travel agent from Perth became the first person to die from coronavirus in Australia.
James Kwan, 78, was diagnosed with the virus after going on the infected Diamond Princess cruise ship.
WHERE TO GET VACCINATIONS:
• Government-funded flu vaccines will become available to providers from mid-April, pre-orders will open on March 16;
• Vaccinations are available from your general practitioner, some local pharmacies (if you are aged 10 or over) or the Aboriginal Medical Service;
• Call ahead to make sure your practice is vaccinating on the day you want to visit;
• If you are not able to access your GP, local pharmacy or AMS and wish to be vaccinated, contact your local public health unit for advice;
• Hospitals and other health services (eg renal dialysis clinics or antenatal clinics) may also offer flu vaccination to inpatients and outpatients that are more likely to become really sick with flu.
CAN YOU GET A FREE FLU SHOT?
The following groups are eligible for a free seasonal flu vaccine because they are at higher risk of complications from influenza:
• Pregnant women (influenza vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy);
• All people aged 65 years and over (a vaccine that is specifically designed to produce a higher immune response is available for this group);
• All children aged six months to less than five years of age (including Aboriginal and medically at risk);
• Children aged six months to 10 years on long-term aspirin therapy;
• All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over;
• All individuals aged five years and over with medical risk conditions, namely: cardiac disease including cyanotic congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure; chronic respiratory conditions including suppurative lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and severe asthma; other chronic illnesses requiring regular medical follow up or hospitalisation in the previous year including diabetes mellitus, chronic metabolic diseases, chronic renal failure and haemoglobinopathies; chronic neurological conditions that impact on respiratory function including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders; and impaired immunity including HIV, malignancy and chronic steroid use.
Five free vaccines will be available in 2020:
• Vaxigrip Tetra for all children aged six months to five years old;
• Fluarix Tetra and FluQuadri for eligible people aged six months to 64 years;
• Afluria Quad for eligible people aged five years to 64 years; and
• Fluad Quad for all people aged 65 years and over.