The Victorian Government will fund influenza vaccinations for children under five next year after a large increase in immunisation contributed to a dramatic drop in the number of reported flu cases.
There were 1.7 million doses of vaccine administered in the state, contributing to an 85 per cent drop in the number of cases this year.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy is cautiously optimistic that with another month to go in the flu season, the trend will continue.
There have been 30,000 fewer flu notifications this year and 564 fewer presentations to hospital emergency departments.
“We haven’t finished the flu season … but we do know that we were inundated last year with cases of influenza,” Ms Hennessy said.
Julian Rait, the president of Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria, said vaccinations contributed to the big drop.
“I think that the increased vaccination rate certainly contributed to a reduction in cases, if not accounted for them all,” Associate Professor Rait said.
Anecdotally there was also a reduction in the rate of severe flu in young children, an indication that vaccinating kids under the age of five for the first time this year was a “wise strategy.”
“It’s proven that if the community is engaged with this issue that we can reduce the number of cases,” Associate Professor Rait said.
Ms Hennessy said those vaccinations will continue next year but should ultimately be funded by the Federal Government under the national immunisation program.
“The Commonwealth have not moved on that front and we will put our hand up for yet another year to fund that flu vaccination, but ultimately we want to see these things rolled out under the national immunisation program,” she said.
Allegra Siciliano was just three years old when she came down with what appeared to be a cold.
Her condition deteriorated dramatically and she was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with flu.
She was in a coma in intensive care for a week, and all up spent almost six weeks in hospital.
Now in Grade 2, her father Ross Siciliano said she still has rehabilitation to help to improve her gross motor skills.
“We give obviously do it religiously each year [give her the flu vaccine] not just for Allegra but for the entire family,” he said.
“Every year, the family, and extended family and friends also get it and try to pass on the message to everyone.”
Timing of the jab important
While 2017 was a particularly bad year with 35,346 cases reported compared to 4,953 this year, Ms Hennessy acknowledged the predominance of the H1N1 strain was “less prevalent” this year.
The number of people getting vaccinations in April and May led to some shortages, a problem largely caused by supply issues, Associate Professor Rait said.
“I think there will be a lot to learn this year and I expect that next year there’ll be sufficient supplies to meet the demand,” he said.
The AMA Victoria president said getting a flu jab at the right time of year was also important.
He said the best time to get a flu jab is in late May or early June so that it is fully effective during the peak time of the season in late August.
“The vaccine wears off over time. It takes a few weeks to reach peak effect, then it reduces in efficacy probably by a rate of around 15 per cent a month,” he said.
“We would normally encourage people to have their vaccination given in late May or early June so at least that covers the peak part of the season which is usually late August but also protects them out to September or October.”