25 May 2022

Flu cases increase 'sharply' in the ACT but government not yet considering free flu vax for general population

| Lottie Twyford
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Rachel Stephen-Smith flu

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith received her flu shot late last month. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The number of flu cases in the ACT has increased sharply in recent weeks. Despite this, the Territory Government is not yet considering offering free flu vaccinations to Canberrans this winter, even though NSW and Queensland are.

According to ACT Health’s latest influenza surveillance report, 301 cases were reported to the directorate in the fortnight to 8 May 2022.

Since the beginning of the year, 361 flu cases have been reported to ACT Health. This means flu cases almost tripled in a week (in the week ending 1 May, 134 cases were notified).

Most confirmed cases (56 per cent) were in people aged between 20 and 64 years old.

Health’s report noted that a substantial proportion of notifications received in the reporting period were associated with transmission in low-risk workplaces and congregate living settings and reflect expanded testing protocols adopted by certain primary health service providers.

Chart of flu cases in the ACT by year

The influenza surveillance report for the ACT shows flu cases are spiking earlier than usual. Image: ACT Health.

Influenza cases are spiking earlier than usual, according to ACT Health.

There was little to no influenza recorded locally during 2020 and 2021 due to Australia’s international borders restrictions.

That wasn’t the case in 2019, which is generally understood to have been an extremely bad flu season for the ACT – almost 4000 flu cases were reported and 10 people died from the flu, compared to 267 confirmed cases in 2018.

Over a similar period in 2019 (1 January to 19 May), 363 notifications of influenza were reported to ACT Health.

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Canberrans have been urged to get their flu jabs, and health authorities have warned of the possibility of an extremely difficult winter if the colder months bring an expected spike in COVID-19 infections combined with a flu season.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith has previously warned of a likely wane in flu immunity because of a lack of exposure to the virus over recent years.

The peak of the ACT’s flu season is usually June to September.

And while the jab is free under the National Immunisation Program for children aged six months to under five years, people aged 65 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, a spokesperson for ACT Health said beyond this, the jab can be provided to targeted groups at the COVID-19 Access and Sensory immunisation clinics.

However, a free immunisation program will not be rolled out more broadly in the ACT.

On Monday (23 May), the Queensland Government announced that Queenslanders would be offered a free flu vaccination for the next month.

The state is facing a severe outbreak of Influenza A, with cases now doubling every week.

Brad Hazzard

NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard Photo: Twitter.

Closer to home, the NSW Government – also facing an outbreak of its own – is looking to implement a similar program from as early as next week as flu cases soar to around 12,000.

The state’s health minister Brad Hazzard said flu had hit the state earlier and harder than it had for many years. He urged people to get the jab amid increasing pressure on the state’s health system.

In 2017 more than 650 people died in NSW from influenza-related complications.

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Covid doesn’t recognise state borders nor does Influenza.

If NSW and Qld are providing it free to protect their health systems, maybe the ACT should as well? It’s not as if the ACT Health system has substantial additional capacity to deal with an influx of illnesses. They are already cancelling surgeries due to Covid.

If you work in Government or many large organisations, they’ll provide a free flu shot, to reduce winter absenteeism. If you are over 65, you are entitled to a free flu shot too.

With many off work with Covid, it makes a lot of sense to provide free flu vaccines to the rest of the community because the Government, employer groups, hospitals etc just don’t need a flu epidemic, in addition to Covid.

Step up Mr Barr.

We are not required to report that we have flu to the government, so whatever flu stats the government has are meaningless.

Yes, it’s not like there are actual epidemiologists who use surveillance data exactly like this to predict actual case rates and disease impacts.

The ACT government health system really couldn’t get any worse. It is beyond help. We all know labor/greens hate giving away anything for free; they prefer to tax people for every single thing. They wouldn’t want to actually provide help or assistance to anyone. Shame on the ACT govt. Even the stingy QLD premier is giving out free flu vaccines to Queenslanders.

Another disaster caused by government. A terrible flu season after borders were reopened was predicted in 2020 when it became obvious that lockdowns and border closures had also suppressed other respiratory viruses. Respiratory viruses are kept in check by herd immunity, but because they mutate fast, that also requires broad circulation so everyone’s immune systems are kept up-to-date. Lockdowns and border closures have made everyone’s immune systems naive to existing respiratory viruses, meaning our next encounter with the flu or common cold is likely to be worse than usual.

It’s just the flu bro… no seriously it is just the flu… Shouldn’t you be fretting over monkey pox instead? Heard it can cause “long monkey”!

That’s kinda my point. The reason the flu is “just the flu” is because we didn’t try to control it. Government restrictions have made it (and everything else) worse.

TheSilver, and why should we try to control it? That’s my point, we’ve never done so preCOVID and no reason that should change now. We need to get one with life.

Completely agree. That’s what I’m saying. We never should have closed the borders or had lockdowns. At best they delayed the inevitable, but it has caused this disaster, and the coming recession. The next five years are going to be awful and entirely caused by government short term thinking.

The Silver, and the reason we didn’t have tens of thousands of deaths over the last couple of years is because the government controls put in place to reduce the spread of COVID. We are now nearing those high levels of herd immunity from it which will continue to grow. Minis of course the huge death count that would otherwise have occurred.

A worse than usual flu season was always expected, which is why they are putting in steps to lessen its impacts.

Isn’t this exactly what you want? To assess the risk of different diseases and put in place proportionate controls?

Chewy, Melbourne was in lockdown for over 270 days and what did that achieve. Right now there are still deaths, COVID cases, people getting reinfected again and again and again. The only difference is we have lost a whole year of productivity, children lost out on their education and millions suffered the mental health consequences of protracted lockdowns. Government intervention is never helpful!

What the government did was delayed the inevitable at the massive cost of the coming recession, which will make the 1970s look like a party.

Sam Oak,
I actually agree that on the fringes, some of the government controls were too heavy handed.

But on the whole, all of them got it generally right. Despite the claims, we haven’t simply delayed the inevitable, we have avoided the worst impacts which have been seen elsewhere in the world.

You don’t have to take my word for it, the ABS has just published year-to-date all cause mortality figures, not including 2020.


A better link:

All cause mortality is up 20% above the baseline, not including 2020. New Zealand has the same thing.

@chewy but were the waves in other countries even all that bad? In India it was basically one month where mortality increased and it was back to normal. People seem to argue that the ultimate goal is to save the most number of lives and that trumps the suffering of others. Never mind that the extra amount that would have died with no lockdown are likely just the old and with severe medical conditions. Possibly we’ve extended their lives by another 3 years at the expense of others? If that’s the case we should outright ban euthanasia if it’s so vital we keep people living for as long as possible.

The Silver,
Of cause mortality rates are up, it’s completely expected as I said previously. Covid is still circulating as well with far lower mortality rates. But the counterfactual is that more people would have died without the actions taken.

I agree with you that there will be longer term effects but the levels of death overall are far lower than they would have been otherwise. This article is about the flu, for which we have a readily available vaccine, it’s not comparable.

Sam Oak, there’s some countries where good data is available, India isn’t one I’d try to use for anything.

Even then, their actual reported deaths are over 500k, and the short period you mention only accounts for a fraction of that total death count. It’s not “normal” in any sense of the word.

And once again, I agree with you that in places there could have been a better balance struck, but on the whole we’ve done well.

TheSilver, you have provided a proper reference showing excess deaths from COVID-19. Firstly, congratulations on demonstrating to doubters that COVID-19 is not “just the flu”, that excess deaths continue at a rate about three times greater than the road toll, the latter being something over which people normally show concern, and 5x-10x that of the flu over the prior decade.
Secondly, thank you for supporting the efficacy of vaccination and other health measures. Prior to end May 2021, when we had negligible vaccination and awaited more serious lockdowns, the fatality rate stood at 3%. A year later, after near complete vaccination and more caution by many people, the fatality rate stands at 0.12%. Good, eh?
You can find source data here: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/covid-19-cumulative-confirmed-cases-vs-confirmed-deaths?time=2021-05-30&country=~AUS

So, a delay of the inevitable, as I said, and once you include the deaths and harm from the coming recession, it’ll be government has done more harm than good.

Sam Oak – you have completely missed the point of the lock-down – yes to curb the spread (and inevitable), but more importantly, to SMOOTH the curve targeted at our health systems which would have been overwhelmed. Your view is a myopic.

It failed even on those grounds. The ACT government couldn’t keep the virus out of aged care facilities, despite the average age of death from this virus being higher than the average life expectancy.

TheSilver, your position appears to be that there was some delay in deaths which would have occurred anyway, no total change, no benefit.
This in reply to my referenced post showing a reduction from expected to actual deaths by a factor of 25 times, the efficacy of vaccination and social measures. Your comment is quite daft.

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