Free flu shots have been extended to people living in NSW, Victoria, WA and Victoria amid concerns that the Australian health system will be overwhelmed by a surging influenza caseload this winter.
After a quiet couple of years for flu, due to lockdowns and mask wearing from people trying to avoid catching COVID, health department data shows Australia has recorded more than 38,000 cases of flu this year, with more than 26,000 cases recorded in two weeks of May alone.
There are fears that these statistics don’t show the full scale of the problem, as flu testing and reporting of positive cases is not mandatory – most infections are not being recorded.
With many hospitals still overwhelmed by COVID patients (Australia currently has the fourth highest rate of COVID infections in the world, according to Our World in Data), medical experts say there’s a real risk that health facilities will be unable to deal with a large number of serious influenza cases.
With all the focus on COVID-19 in recent years, health authorities fear many people have forgotten about flu, and misunderstand the relationship between the two viruses. For example, infections with one or more variants of COVID-19 give no additional immunity against the flu virus. COVID-19 boosters don’t assist with flu protection either.
Alarmingly, it’s also possible to contract both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.
This situation comes as medical staff are more overworked than ever before, with ambulances ramping in many areas, and numerous health workers themselves being taken out of action by infections and stress.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia National President, Associate Professor Chris Freeman, said ‘Public health teams are rightly alarmed by the surging influenze caseload across the nation. Hospitalisations are already placing strain on stretched health resources.
‘We must act with urgency and work together to vaccinate as many people against influenza as soon as possible,’ he said.
Flu shots are available at pharmacies and GPs across the country.