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Better flu vaccines wanted for the vulnerable elderly

Calls for a ‘more effective’ influenza (flu) vaccine for the elderly are being made following what is being called Australia’s ‘worst flu season on record’.

more than 500 deaths have been recorded and linked to the flu this year (Source: Shutterstock)
more than 500 deaths have been recorded and linked to the flu this year (Source: Shutterstock)

To date, the ‘dreadful’ flu season has affected more than 217,000 Australians - more than twice the previous record of just over 100,000 people in 2015, with 504 deaths recorded and linked to the flu this year.

Seniors advocacy group, National Seniors, has welcomed news that Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy was working on ways to strengthen the National Immunisation Program, including holding talks with manufacturers on new and strengthened vaccines after it claimed the lives of numerous aged care residents.

National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke says protecting the vulnerable, like the elderly, is key and that action is needed to prevent a repeat of the flu crisis next year.

“We need to protect everyone who is vulnerable and ensure that preventative measures are put in place well ahead of next year’s flu season,” Mr Henschke says.

“We just don’t want to see older Australians or, indeed, anyone dying from a preventable illness like the flu.”

Chairman Immunisation Coalition Paul Van Buynder says despite the figures, the vaccine purchased by the Australian Government and used this year was the best available at the time and remains so today.

“While the vaccine was relatively ineffective in the elderly this year, we had no alternative vaccine available,” he says.

“The effectiveness of the vaccine for those under 65 was within normal expectations this season.”

He adds that vaccination is still the single, most effective way to prevent influenza and that the Immunisation Coalition looks forward to Government and the industry working to bring better products into Australia.

In a statement released, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health, Professor Brendan Murphy, reiterates that the vaccines were the ‘best available in the Australian market but adds he is working to find new vaccine options.

“At the request of the Health Minister Greg Hunt, I am working on ways to strengthen the National Immunisation Program, including holding talks with manufacturers on new and strengthened vaccines,” Professor Murphy says.

He adds that all vaccines used in Australia as part of the National Immunisation Program unless an application has been submitted and the vaccine is approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and that under the Program, people aged over 65 are eligible for a free flu shot.

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