The ACT Government has injected extra urgency into the need for Canberrans to get a flu shot this year because of fears a surge in cases will overwhelm a hospital system already dealing with an expected increase in patients with COVID-19.
Flu cases swamped emergency departments last winter blowing out waiting and treatment times.
There have been 300 influenza cases this year compared with 393 at this time last year but while current flu activity remains low, the government says now is the time for those most vulnerable to be immunised as it can take two weeks to develop immunity.
It says this is particularly important for older ACT residents and those from higher-risk groups, and that they should get vaccinated as soon as possible before the start of winter.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith and ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman launched the 2020 flu vaccination campaign on Thursday (16 April), saying that this year it is more important than ever to get vaccinated.
“As we head into winter, we are preparing for flu season and a possible increase of COVID-19 cases in the ACT,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“Reducing the spread of influenza this year will help to alleviate the pressure on our health system and health care workers as they work to respond to COVID-19.
“We do not want to see people contracting influenza and COVID-19 at the same time. This is particularly important for those aged 65 years and over who, in addition to being at greater risk of complications from influenza, are also more at risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.”
She urged those eligible for a free influenza vaccine through the National Immunisation Program to do it now.
Dr Coleman said that while the flu vaccine would not protect against COVID-19, it would reduce the chances of getting both viruses at once.
“The flu vaccine is available at your GP, local pharmacy or ACT Government Early Childhood Immunisation Clinic. These providers are complying with social distancing requirements to protect the community so it’s really important to make sure you get your flu vaccine now,” Dr Coleman said.
The flu vaccine is free in the ACT for people most at risk of influenza complications, including children aged six months to under five years, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older, and people aged six months and over with underlying medical conditions
Annual vaccination is recommended for everyone aged six months and over as the most effective way to protect against the flu.
For more information about flu immunisation, visit ACT Health.