Take-up of the free flu vaccine for under-fives has risen following the recent death of a toddler but NSW Health is urging all people eligible for a free flu shot to vaccinate before the flu season kicks off.
NSW Health’s latest Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report showed 232 confirmed flu cases for the week ending 15 July, much lower than the 2,127 notifications in the same week in 2017.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said the number of flu cases across the state remained low, indicating the flu season has not yet arrived.
“Following media reports last week about the death of a small child from influenza, there has been a notable increase in parents taking advantage of the free influenza vaccine for children up to five years of age,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“There are plentiful supplies of this vaccine and we urge parents to visit their GP sooner rather than later as it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, and children having the shot for the first time require two doses, one month apart,” he added.
The NSW Government is spending a record $22.75 million on state-wide immunisation programs which will assist with flu prevention this season. This includes $3.5 million for free flu shots to children up to five years of age and a $1.75 million immunisation and influenza prevention campaign.
Flu shots are also free under, the National Immunisation Program, for pregnant women, people over 65 years of age, Aboriginal people and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart problems.
Dr Sheppeard said it was likely the high uptake of the flu vaccine across the community was one of the many factors behind the slow start to the flu season this year.
“It’s not too late to vaccinate and we’re encouraging everyone, particularly pregnant women and the parents of young children, to arrange the flu shot before the season starts,” she said.
“Vaccination is the best protection against flu but you can help prevent it spreading by coughing and sneezing into your elbow, cleaning your hands and staying home when sick,” she added.
NSW Health is closely monitoring flu case numbers and issuing an Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report every Friday to keep the community up to date on influenza activity.