Experts call for free flu vaccines for all Australians amid battle against Covid-19

Canberra, May 25 (IANS) A leading infectious diseases expert has urged the influenza vaccine to be made free for all Australians to prevent a looming health “disaster”.

Ian Barr, WHO Deputy Director Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza, said recently governments should entirely subsidise flu vaccinations to help emphasise their importance.

According to data from the federal Health Department, nearly 5.9 million people aged five years and above, or 24 per cent of the population, and 151,189 Australians younger than five years had received a flu vaccine as of Sunday, Xinhua news agency reported.

The low figures come despite governments and health authorities across the country urging as many people as possible to get vaccinated to protect the health system ahead of a projected winter spike in flu and Covid-19 cases.

“The Covid vaccination has set the precedent. It sends a message the government thinks it’s a priority,” Barr told the Guardian Australia.

“There’s a two-year gap when we haven’t been exposed, and we know immunity wanes especially if you’re not vaccinated.”

“What we don’t normally see is quite so many kids in hospital but a lot of this is due to high numbers. There’ll be deaths for sure, and no doubt increased pressure on hospitals.”

Up until May 8 there had been 10,599 confirmed influenza cases in Australia compared to fewer than 1,000 in 2021 amid coronavirus restrictions and border closures.

In the Central Australia region of the Northern Territory, 36 per cent of confirmed flu cases in 2022 have been hospitalised for treatment, prompting concerns of a severe season.

“This is the first full flu season for three years while our hospitals are already full,” Australian Medical Association Vice-President, Chris Moy said.

“It’s quite a scary prospect. We should be thinking about this from a disaster perspective.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 7,020,862 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Australia, including 8,178 deaths, and nearly 353,415 active cases, according to the latest figures from the Health Department.

The number of new Covid-19 cases reported in the previous 24 hours stood at 43,090.