Highlighting the horrific 2019 flu season, the Pharmacy Guild has again called for pharmacy access to the National Immunisation Program
The Guild analysed this year’s flu season, which has been one of the worst on record, surpassing the difficult 2017 season by 17%.
As at the beginning of 28 October 2019, Immunisation Coalition figures put the number of laboratory confirmed influenza cases countrywide as 302,765.
The Guild notes that the season has been described as the “worse ever,” by experts, and that at least 812 people have died from the flu – up from 64 people in 2018 and from at least 804 in 2018.
Almost 4,000 people have been hospitalised.
“In 2019, Australia has faced the worst flu seasons on record with a 20 per cent increase in the number of reported flu cases compared with 2017,” said George Tambassis, National President of the Pharmacy Guild.
“This year 812 people tragically lost their lives to the flu nationally and there were more than 302,000 laboratory confirmed cases.
“We must be doing everything we can to reduce this figure, and we know that the only effective way to prevent the flu is through vaccination.
“Thanks to the affordability and convenience of a ‘walk-in’ appointment more than two million Australians chose to get their flu vaccination from a pharmacist this year.
“While the role of pharmacists in mitigating the severity of the 2019 flu season should not be underestimated, we need to be doing all we can to vaccinate more people.”
The Guild’s analysis notes that as Australia’s most easily accessible health professionals, pharmacists are playing a growing role in preventing flu.
The organisation has again called for access to the NIP to be extended across all states and territories; currently this is only available in Victoria, though during the 2019 season an ACT Health pilot was announced for patients aged 65 and over.
This year was only the third year in which pharmacists across all Australian states and territories could provide flu vaccination, the Guild observed.
In Western Australia, Tasmania and now Victoria, pharmacists can vaccinate children as young as 10 against the illness.
The Guild says that in Victoria, where the NIP has been available in pharmacies since 2017, there were fewer flu deaths as a proportion of total flu cases, and the flu notification rates were lower than in other comparable States such as NSW and Queensland.
This year Victoria saw 66,015 notified cases, compared to 66,407 in Queensland (a rate of 1,022 per 100,000 population compared to 1,328) and 112,841 in NSW.
“We need to be doing everything we can to protect people who are most at risk – including groups most affected by the flu like the elderly or people with asthma,” Mr Tambassis said.
“That’s why it makes sense to extend the free vaccine program to community pharmacies, so we can protect those Australians who are most at risk.”