Vulnerable Australians will get free access to a quadrivalent flu vaccine in 2016 following a record number of reported cases this year.
Minister for Health Sussan Ley says the Government will upgrade the National Immunisation Program to include a new influenza vaccine for 2016 that will cover four flu strains instead of the usual three.
She says the new vaccine will include the Brisbane and Phuket strains of the influenza virus, which contributed to the record 90,000 reported flu cases in Australia in 2015—25,000 higher than the previous record of 65,000 cases reported last year.
Minister Ley says the strains to be included in next year’s quadrivalent vaccine align with World Health Organization recommendations for the southern hemisphere.
“The Government currently spends upwards of $40 million immunising Australians against the flu, which poses serious health, social, productivity and economic threats to our community every year,” the Minister says.
“We’ve seen another high flu season this year which saw a number of influenza viruses circulating, including both the Brisbane and the Phuket influenza B strains.”
She says it’s important to remember that the figures may be growing because of increased reporting.
“This is an important public message to continue to promote in order to stop the spread and severity of the virus and its impacts on patients,” she says.
“In order to ensure we have full coverage of our population with no gaps, we will offer two vaccines in 2016 – one for people aged three years and over and one that is specifically tailored for children under three.”
The 2016 quadrivalent vaccine is planned to cover two A strains of influenza (California and Hong Kong) and two B strains of influenza (Brisbane and Phuket).
Influenza B viruses are estimated to have accounted for about 62% of flu cases in Australia in 2015.
The Australian Government has partnered with GSK, whose Fluarix Tetra, will be available for eligible people aged three years and older. The Government will also contract with Sanofi for their FluQuadri Junior, which will be available for eligible children under three.
Minister Ley says Australians not eligible for vaccinations under the NIP will still be able to access seasonal flu vaccinations via the private market through their GP, employer or other allied health professionals.