The Queensland health department has mobilised a free vaccine drive for flu shots after recording an influenza A outbreak of more than 4,000 cases this year.
Flu cases have been doubling in the state, jumping from 1,848 cases to 4,282 cases since last week.
The public health restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic had driven numbers down to almost zero since 2020. But according to acting chief health officer Dr Peter Aitken, the Influenza A strain is more severe than Influenza B and resulted in more people requiring treatment in hospital.
“Vaccination rates for children 6 months to less than 5 years of age is just 6%.
“I urge parents of all age groups to please take up this offer of a free vaccine,” Dr Aitken said.
In a statement, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the virus was impacting young and older age groups. She said because the state had recorded low vaccine rates for influenza and numbers were rising faster than expected, the government wanted to get on the front foot and offer free vaccine shots.
“To fight COVID-19 and the flu is doubly hard. That’s why we are making these flu shots free for everyone,” Palaszczuk said.
Ordinarily, free flu vaccines are available to the most vulnerable. But under the new rule, Queenslanders older than 6 months will be eligible to receive a free shot.
The free shots will be available to eligible people from pharmacies and GPs until the end of June.
Free flu shots will be available for all ages from GPs and pharmacies across Queensland.
We want every Queenslander to have the best protection to stay healthy over the winter.
— Yvette D'Ath MP (@YvetteDAth) May 23, 2022
Health minister Yvette D’Ath said the best measure the state could make was to get as many people as vaccinated as possible. A comparison between hospitalisation rates in 2017 and 2019 showed the latest trend was cause for concern, she added.
“Our 2017 season saw more than 750 people in intensive care and our 2019 season saw about 300 people,” D’Ath said.
“The fact that more than 4,000 cases have already been detected when flu seasons don’t usually begin until late July is very concerning.”
Patients who already receive a free flu shot under the National Immunisation program should continue to access vaccine from their usual provider.