THE Wide Bay Public Health Unit is urging elderly Queenslanders to protect themselves from the flu in 2018.
THE Wide Bay Public Health Unit is urging elderly Queenslanders to protect themselves from the flu in 2018. Warren Lynam

Free flu vaccines available soon

TRAGICALLY, more than 1,000 Australians died of flu-related illness in 2017, and more than 90 per cent of them were aged over 65.

Elderly citizens are most at risk to viral outbreaks, evidenced by the the Human Metapneumovirus that swept through Monto's Ridgehaven Retirement Complex earlier this year.

With flu season on the horizon, health professionals are warning Australians to take the necessary precautions.

Following a recommendation from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, two ground-breaking vaccines will become available from April as part of the National Immunisation Program.

Through the program, potentially life-saving vaccines are provided free of charge to people aged 65 or over by local GPs and clinics.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the new vaccines have been specifically made for the elderly, as their immune systems respond less effectively to vaccines.

"These new trivalent (three strain) vaccines work in over 65s by generating a strong immune response and are more effective for this age group in protecting against influenza,” Minister Hunt said.

"Vaccination saves lives and they are fundamental to our health system. We encourage all Australians aged over six months old to get a flu vaccination this year before the peak season starts in June.”

But it's still well before the season traditionally starts and only a small number of cases are being reported.

Wide Bay Public Health Physician Dr Margaret Young said people should wait for the new vaccines to become available rather than turning to alternatives.

"For people aged over 65 the protection provided by vaccine lasts a shorter period of time than for other age groups, so it is advisable to hold off on being vaccinated until late May to ensure you have a level of protection during the peak of the flu season, which usually occurs in Wide Bay between mid August and mid September,” Dr Young said.

"It's important to remember that flu vaccines are not perfect and there is still a chance of becoming unwell, but the new vaccines will offer better protection against severe or complicated influenza.

"It is also important that our community takes active steps to prevent the spread of the flu. People should frequently wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel, use a tissue or the inside of your arm to sneeze or cough, put used tissues straight into the bin and clean frequently touched services such as door handles, fridge doors, tables and benches.

"If you have flu-like symptoms stay at home.”