Flu vaccines will be available to Australians in record numbers this year in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
A total of 18 million flu vaccines will be available in 2020. According to the government, this is an increase from 13.2 million doses in 2019, 11 million in 2018 and almost 10 million more than the 8.3 million flu vaccines administered in 2017.
More than 7.3 million flu vaccines have already been administered by Australia’s doctors and pharmacists this year. This compares to 4.5 million doses for the same period last year, and over double the 3.5 million in 2018.
The numbers are significant in relation to Australia’s population of around 25 million.
Part of the government’s response in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has been to ensure widespread vaccination against the flu. It is thought sufferers of influenza are more at risk of serious complications if they also contract Covid-19.
“Both influenza and COVID-19 cause serious respiratory illness. The combination of both diseases could be life threatening, especially for our vulnerable people,” Minister for Health Greg Hunt said in a statement on Wednesday.
According to Mr Hunt, the Australian government has invested more than $80 million to provide free flu vaccine to people most at risk of complications from influenza.
“It’s important to remember that vaccination should continue to be offered as long as the influenza virus is circulating. So, if you haven’t already, it’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Mr Hunt said.
Flu cases at record lows
Conversely, so far in 2020 cases of flu in Australia are at record lows. It is believed the dramatic fall in numbers is a direct result of the hygiene and social distancing measures employed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The number of flu cases detected in Australia since the lockdowns is just 138. This compares with 30,372 in May last year.
“We’ve seen numbers almost non-existent,” Kim Sampson from Immunisation Coalition told 9News.
“I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that this is because of the restrictions that have been undertaken like social distancing and good hand hygiene.”
“Cheap” flu vaccine accusation denied
Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, was forced to defend Australia’s flu vaccines earlier this month against claims they were “cheap”.
“The claim that Australians received a “cheap flu vaccine” is utterly false,” Professor Murphy said in a statement.
“I could not be clearer – I completely refute this false claim.
“The flu vaccines chosen this year were the best available in (the) Australian market, selected by medical experts in Australia and around the world.
“They are the same vaccines which are available and used in the UK, US and other countries and the same vaccines available on the private market in Australia.”