Children in New South Wales will get free flu jabs this year to ward off a repeat of the flu epidemic that killed scores of Australians, including children.
Australia’s worst ever flu epidemic saw 12,000 confirmed cases of the flu in kids under 5 alone, sending experts shouting for free vaccinations.
And it seems the NSW government has listened. Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced yesterday that there will be free flu vaccinations for all kids aged six months to five years in NSW in 2018. Free vaccinations for children are already offered in Western Australia and Queensland.
“NSW, like the rest of the country, was subjected to a horror flu season last year. The program will target more than 400,000 children and ensure better protection for them and the wider community,” Ms Berejiklian says.
‘Horror’ Flu Season
And a ‘horror’ flu season is no understatement. Last year’s epidemic is estimated to have killed approximately 300 people, before sweeping its way to the UK and US. This includes the tragic deaths of eight-year-old Rosie Brealey, two Sydney preschoolers and Queensland teenager, Maddy Jones.
Many other people were hospitalised with severe symptoms too. One-year-old Alistair Massey was admitted to hospital with the flu last September after he started vomiting and became very lethargic.
His Mum, Gillian Massey, who is also a children’s nurse, described to the Sydney Morning Herald how scary it was to watch:
“When he didn’t react to the pain of a blood test, that’s when we knew something was seriously wrong,” she says.
“When the hospital physicians became quite concerned, that’s when I started to panic … it was the scariest time of my life.”
Massey says she will “definitely” take up the offer of a free vaccine: “This year and every year, especially after this [announcement], I will definitely get Alistair vaccinated for the flu,” she said.
It’s Up to Us
Experts have previously called young children ‘super-spreaders’ of the flu, sharing coughs, sneezes and germs with everyone around them (just in case you didn’t get to witness it for yourself!).
It’s because of this that the NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, is encouraging all parents to take the initiative.
“Infants and young children are most likely to spread the flu and suffer complications – not only will the free flu jab help keep them safe during winter, but it will also protect their family and friends,” he says.
If your child hasn’t had the flu shot before, then they’ll need two doses one month apart. Children who have previously had a flu jab need only only one dose. The vaccine will help protect from four strains of the virus likely to circulate this winter.
West Australia already offers a free flu vaccination for children under five and Queensland Health announced their free flu shots at the end of last year.
Australians eligible for free vaccines under the National Immunisation Program:
- People aged 65 years and over
- Pregnant women
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait people aged six months to five years, and 15 years and older
- People aged six months and over with medical conditions including asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes
If you can’t stand the sight of needles, then you may want to take a look at the nasal spray flu vaccine, which could be taking their place.