Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced the introduction of two new trivalent vaccines specifically aimed at protecting people aged over 65
He also announced the composition of the 2018 quadrivalent flu vaccine.
“This is a direct response to last year’s horrific flu season, which had a devastating impact around the world, and aimed squarely at saving lives,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.
“More than 90% of the 1,100 flu related deaths in 2017 were by people aged over 65 years of age.”
He said that the Turnbull Government and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy have worked to bring the new vaccines—Fluad and Fluzone High Dose—to Australia for the first time.
“These new trivalent vaccines work in over 65s by generating a strong immune response and are more effective for this age group in protecting against influenza,” Mr Hunt said.
“These vaccines have been specifically made for the elderly, as their immune systems respond less effectively to vaccines.”
Both the new vaccines will be available to seniors through the National Immunisation Program.
Mr Hunt says that Prof Murphy is continuing to investigate ways to improve protection from seasonal influenza, including mandating a requirement for residential aged care providers to provide a seasonal flu vaccination program to all staff.
The Aged Care Quality Agency is also continuing a review of the infection control practices of aged care services across the country. The outcomes will inform new guidelines around the areas of the greatest risk to the safety, health and wellbeing of care recipients.
“Annual vaccination is the most important measure for preventing influenza and its complications and we encourage all Australians to get vaccinated,” Mr Hunt said.
“We encourage all Australians aged over six months old to get a flu vaccination this year before the peak season starts in June.”
In 2017, a total of 248,125 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza were made in Australia.
In November, the Australian Government released detailed reviews of aged care homes in Victoria and Tasmania that suffered deadly influenza outbreaks this winter, which revealed poor facility management and low staff vaccination rates.
“These review audits reveal management errors, especially in infection control at the two sites,” said Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt.
“The flu season affected aged care residents and staff and the homes’ infection control and contingency plans were overwhelmed but it was unacceptable.
“Staff vaccination rates in both homes were low, with only around one-third vaccinated ahead of the outbreaks, and dozens of staff were subsequently struck down with the flu.”
The United States is also currently undergoing a severe flu season, with Centers for Disease Control acting director Dr Anne Schuchat saying days ago that flu was still on the rise.
“Unfortunately, this week’s report reveals more somber news, with an additional 10 flu-related pediatric deaths for this season,” she said. “That means we have now received reports for 63 children who have died of the flu so far this season.
“Levels of influenza-like-illness across the country are now as high as we observed at the peak of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. This doesn’t mean that we are having a pandemic, just that levels of influenza-like-illness are as high as what we saw during the peak of H1N1.
“In past seasons similar to this one, an estimated 34 million Americans have gotten sick with flu.”
The US is now seeing an increase in influenza B activity, Dr Schuchat said.
Minister Hunt also announced the four strains which will be contained within this year’s Southern Hemisphere vaccines:
• A(H1N1): an A/Michigan/45/2015(H1N1) pdm09 like virus
• A(H3N2): an A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016(H3N2) like virus
• B: a B/Phuket/3073/2013 like virus
• B: a B/Brisbane/60/2008 like virus