About an extra two million Australians are expected to get a flu shot this year as more pharmacies gear up to vaccinate people amid an early surge in influenza cases.
Health Department figures show nearly 7000 cases of the potentially deadly illness have already been reported this year, about 1000 more than those diagnosed between January and all of March in 2016.
The jump in flu cases comes as a survey found that more than seven million Australians plan to have a flu shot in 2017, the first year that influenza vaccines will be available nation-wide at pharmacies as well as medical centres and GPs.
More than six million people were estimated to be more likely to have a flu vaccine if they could get their shot at a pharmacy, including two million who weren’t intending to, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia survey found.
However the survey also indicated that three million Australians who had previously had a flu shot weren’t planning to this year.
Pharmacy Guild NSW branch president Rick Samimi said having more people immunised against flu cuts the risk of unvaccinated people, including infants, being infected.
“So people who are elderly or immunosuppressed and aren’t allowed to have vaccinations are more likely to be protected if a large percentage of the society are actually vaccinated,” he told AAP.
More than 3000 Australians die from influenza each year, with an estimated 18,000 people hospitalised with the highly contagious infection.
The Pharmacy Guild’s online survey of 1000 Australians aged 18-64 found that baby boomers were the most likely to have had a flu vaccine at some stage.
However fewer than half of Australian adults received a flu shot in 2016.
This year marks the first time that trained staff at community pharmacies nation-wide can give flu jabs after legislative changes in the states and territories in 2016, meaning people don’t have to make a GP appointment for their shot.
Half of last year’s flu vaccinations were given at a doctor’s surgery or medical centre, with about a third administered at work and just 13 per cent in pharmacies.
About 1600 pharmacies have trained staff available to administer flu shots and the number is expected to rise as more staff undergo training.