As we march well into autumn, the 2016 flu season has officially started and a new, stronger ‘supershot’ has been introduced, after last year’s record of influenza cases.
Each year, the Federal Department of Health issues an official recommendation that everyone from the age of six months should be vaccinated, offering free shots to those who face a high risk from influenza and its complications.
These include children aged under three years old, people aged 65 years and older, pregnant women, children on long-term aspirin therapy, those with a medical condition (such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma, respiratory disease, immunosuppression, lung disease, chronic neurological conditions etc.), as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 15 years or older, who are more prone to the virus.
For the first time, the publicly-funded vaccine program will offer the quadrivalent flu vaccine (QIV), which protects against four instead of three strains of flu, expanding its effectiveness to include the Brisbane and Phuket strains of influenza, after last year’s record flu cases.
“There were 90,000 reported flu cases in 2015, that’s 25,000 higher than the previous record, so we know that more people are getting the flu,” Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley stated, stressing that the government works closely with vaccine producers to ensure their product meets the constantly-changing protection needs.
Flu strains are termed ‘A’ (H1 and H3) or ‘B’. Among last winter’s laboratory-confirmed influenza reported cases, 60 per cent were B viruses, which urged the government to shift from the vaccine used for decades in Australia, the trivalent vaccine (TIV), that protects against three strains of the virus, two A strains and one B strain.
This year’s government flu immunisation is a quadrivalent that includes an additional B strain known as the Brisbane strain, alongside the Phuket (B), Hong Kong (A) and California (A) strains (strains are named for the locations in which they were first isolated).
This new ‘super-shot’ is on the National Immunisation Program and has been granted with more than $40 million in funding, in order to be delivered to vulnerable Australians.
Influenza is responsible for 1,500 to 3,500 deaths in Australia each year, either from direct viral effects (such as viral pneumonia) or from complications such as bacterial pneumonia and other secondary bacterial infections. During vaccination, a small amount of inactivated virus is introduced to the human body, which reacts to the components of influenza virus in the mix (which is why some short-lived symptoms of flu might appear after the shot).
Vaccinations are recommended from now onwards, with peak flu season usually falling in July-August.