Influenza on the rise

The State Government has announced that it will extend free flu jabs for all West Australians through June in response to rising case numbers and hospitalisations.

The ‘Free Jab’ program includes support for GP practices to run flu clinics and reimbursement for the 2023 influenza vaccine for people aged 12-64, who are not eligible for the free National Immunisation Program. 

Influenza has accelerated to take pole position as the biggest health threat this season, with more than 1,700 West Australians contracting the flu over the last month, whereas only 280 cases of RSV and eight incidents of COVID were reported. 

According to the latest report from the WA Department of Health, influenza cases have surged from 231 at the beginning of March up to 676 by 20 May, with over 5,000 people infected so far this year – compared to just 214 in 2022 and only 16 in 2021. 

More than 500 West Australians have been hospitalised, including 182 children under nine, and 91 aged between six months and five years – with a further 445 notifications received for those under five. 

State Health Minister, Ms Amber-Jade Sanderson, who made the announcement on 28 May 2023, pointed out that with hospitalisations on the rise, winter approaching, and COVID still at large, immunisation remained the best defence. 

“The State Government continues to work with pharmacies and GPs to provide a free vaccination for every Western Australian ahead of winter,” Minister Sanderson said. 

“The peak period for influenza transmission in WA is typically from June to September, and now is also the time to make sure your COVID vaccinations are up to date – a double infection could be more serious than having either influenza or COVID alone. 

“I urge anyone who has not yet had their influenza vaccination to please book an appointment at GPs, pharmacies and immunisation clinics across the State.” 

WA is on track to achieve a significant level of vaccination coverage this year with more than 566,946 West Australians being vaccinated against the flu so far – 338,401 of whom were vaccinated during ‘Free Jab May.’ 

The RACGP has welcomed the extension of the program and WA Chair Dr Ramya Raman urged people to roll up their sleeves. 

“This year’s strain of influenza is considerably more potent than previous years, and people are ending up in hospital as a result. Confirmed cases have passed 59,000 across Australia,” Dr Raman said. 

“Vaccination is the best protection from influenza, and the extension of the flu program means people have more time to book in and get their jab. 

“The RACGP worked closely with the WA government to ensure the expanded flu program included support for general practices to get more jabs in arms, and it has been a great success so far.” 

Last year was the first time that the program was extended beyond vulnerable groups and 362,000 shots were administered during June and July, with more than one million West Australians being vaccinated in total.

The campaign also had notable success among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2023 showing that 88% of WA’s First Nations people over the age of 65 had received their flu vaccine, compared to 72.8% of non-indigenous West Australians.