A national shortage of the flu vaccine has hit the ACT with ACT Health staff working to redistribute stock to ensure it goes to those with the greatest need.
The shortage has been caused by record demand for flu vaccinations following a horror flu season last year which saw 16 people die from influenza-like illnesses in ACT aged care facilities between July and October alone.
ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Paul Kelly said 79,500 vaccines have been distributed in the ACT already this year compared to 57,000 vaccines in the whole of last year.
Dr Kelly said it is clear that people have heard the message that influenza is a serious disease and are taking action to get vaccinated.
“Our focus right now is on ensuring that people who are at increased risk of complications from influenza have access to the flu vaccine,” Dr Kelly said
“ACT Health is undertaking an inventory of all stock in the community and bringing excess flu vaccine back into our central store in order to redistribute it according to need.
“We currently have sufficient vaccine stock to meet the needs of high-risk groups and encourage these people to make an appointment with their provider as soon as possible to get vaccinated.”
The people identified as being in high-risk groups include:
- pregnant women
- children aged 6 months to under 5 years
- adults aged 65 years and over
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders aged 15 years and over
- people aged 6 months and over who have certain medical conditions that increase risk such as severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes.
Dr Kelly said that demand for the vaccine in the ACT has been unprecedented, with people really heeding the call to be vaccinated.
“In terms of our over 65 age group, we have very good coverage – approaching 85 per cent, which is very high. That would be the highest ever,” Dr Kelly said.
“Our vaccination program for kids aged 6 months to under 5 years is going well. There are currently no constraints on this program and we encourage parents to get their children vaccinated through their usual provider.”
Dr Kelly said that people who don’t fit into high-risk groups need to make their own arrangements to get the flu vaccine through GPs or pharmacies – using ‘private stock’ which they pay for. However, there also appears to be a shortage of this stock in the ACT.
“The situation in Australia as we understand it is that private stocks are also running low and certainly anecdotally here in the ACT we know that some pharmacists have some and others don’t,” he said.
“For those who are interested – and I still encourage people to get the flu vaccine even though you are not in the vulnerable groups – you should look at that quickly.”
Dr Kelly said that ACT Health is working closely with the Commonwealth Department of Health and other jurisdictions to manage the vaccine shortage issue and has received more stocks in the last few days, and is also expecting to receive further stocks soon.
Have you had the flu vaccine yet? Do you think it is important to be vaccinated or do you think we are unlikely to see a flu season as bad as last year’s? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.