Free flu jabs for kids ... if the minister approves

 

AUSTRALIAN children aged six months to five years will be given free flu vaccines in 2020 under a recommendation by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

The independent, expert body has given its approval for the Vaxigrip Tetra quadrivalent jab to be added to the National Immunisation Program and the decision is now waiting for the sign off from Health Minister Greg Hunt. Under law the minister cannot add a vaccine to the NIP without a recommendation from the committee.

The move has been welcomed by Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles who has been pushing for the flu jab to be added to the immunisation program for years and he says Mr Hunt now has to finish the job.

The Queensland Government stepped up to fund free flu vaccines for this young age group from their own budget following the horror flu season of 2017. Since then, immunisation providers have ordered close to 363,000 doses of influenza vaccine for the state's kids.

"The risks of complications for kids who contract the flu are high and we also know that kids are super spreaders in the community. That's why we introduced this program, to ensure young children have the best chance of protection against influenza. I've always said a nationally consistent approach to vaccinations is preferable - the flu doesn't stop at the border," Mr Miles said.

Mr Miles said if the Federal Government carries the cost of the jabs then Queensland could reinvest the funds they have put into the Queensland's immunisation program to fund other vaccinations or work associated with ensuring more kids are up to date with their injections.

Queensland Health has invested close to $1.268 million this year to fund the free vaccine.

So far in 2019 there have been 5043 lab-confirmed flu notifications for children younger than five years in Queensland, including 303 admissions to public hospitals with 22 admitted to ICU.

"​The Australian Government will work to list this vaccine on our national program and make it available in time for the 2020 influenza season. The listing of this vaccine for all children aged six months to five years will further enhance our already strong influenza program and likely improve coverage rates across the country for this age group," a Department of Health spokesman told The Courier-Mail.

The inclusion of the flu vaccine in the NIP means parents would be notified of the free vaccines and the need for the jab would carry more weight.

Professor Robert Booy, Head of the Clinical Research team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) responded to the news of the PBAC recommendation and the chance of better protection for Australia's youngest with one word - "exciting".