The 2017 winter influenza season was the most severe recorded in NSW since the influenza pandemic in 2009, and children and older people were particularly affected. In NSW in 2017 there were two reported influenza deaths in children under five years of age and over 640 influenza- related deaths in other age groups.
In 2017 there were over 12,000 cases of laboratory confirmed influenza reported in children under 5 years of age. These confirmed cases represent only a small percentage of all cases as most will not see a doctor or be tested. While complete hospitalisation data is not available, the Childrens’ Hospital Westmead has reported that more than 250 children (under 16 years) had been hospitalised with confirmed influenza in 2017, approximately double that seen in 2016.
The NSW Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research has approved a $3.5M program in 2018 to provide influenza vaccine to all children in NSW six months to under five years of age who are not currently eligible for influenza vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
Frequently Asked Questions for parents are also available.
Which vaccines will be available for this program in 2018?
In 2018, the influenza vaccines available in Australia for children will protect against the following four influenza virus strains, in line with World Health Organization recommendations:
- A (H1N1): an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
- A (H3N2): an A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2)-like virus
- B: a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus.
- B: a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
The two vaccines to be used for the 2018 NSW childhood influenza vaccination program are:
- FluQuadri Junior® (Sanofi-Aventis) for children aged six months to less than three years.
A quadrivalent inactivated influenza virus. Each 0.25 mL pre-filled syringe contains 7.5µg haemagglutinin of each of the four recommended influenza virus strains; ≤50 µg formaldehyde; ≤125 µg octoxinol 9; ≤0.5 µg ovalbumin.
- FluQuadri® (Sanofi-Aventis) for children aged three years to less than five years.
A quadrivalent inactivated influenza virus. Each 0.5 mL pre-filled syringe contains 15 µg haemagglutinin of each of the four recommended influenza virus strains; ≤100 µg formaldehyde; ≤250 µg octoxinol 9; ≤1 µg ovalbumin.
Note that these vaccines will also be used for influenza vaccination under the National Immunisation Program, together with over influenza vaccine brands (some of which may not be appropriate for vaccination for this age-group).
How many doses are required for children?
Children can begin to be immunised against the flu from six months of age. Children aged 6 months to under 9 years of age require two doses, at least four weeks apart in the first year they receive the vaccine (note that this program only provides vaccine for children aged 6 months to under 5 years).
While two doses in the first year are recommended, one dose does provide some protection and is preferable to receiving no doses. One dose of influenza vaccine is required in subsequent years. A single dose of influenza vaccine is given to all children aged nine years and over.
Two doses, at least 4 weeks apart, are recommended for persons with certain immunocompromising conditions (i.e. haematopoietic stem cell transplant or solid organ transplant) receiving influenza vaccine for the first time post transplant, irrespective of their age.
|6 months to <3 years
|≥3 years to <9 years
* Two doses, at least 4 weeks apart, are recommended for persons with certain immunocompromising conditions (i.e. haematopoietic stem cell transplant or solid organ transplant) receiving influenza vaccine for the first time post transplant (irrespective of their age).
Source: Immunise Australia Program
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Women should be advised of the current recommendations to be vaccinated with influenza vaccine at any time during their pregnancy. This will protect their infant for the first few months of life until their child can be vaccinated with influenza vaccine from 6 months of age.
Breastfeeding may be helpful but will not provide adequate antibodies to protect the infant from influenza.
Is this a new recommendation?
No, the flu vaccine has been recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group for Immunisation (ATAGI) for all children from 6 months to under 5 years of age since 2013. However, under the National Immunisation Program, free influenza vaccine has only been provided for Aboriginal children in this age group and for other children with medical conditions placing them at greater risk of serious complications from the flu.
NSW Health has now funded a program to ensure all children in this age group have access to the annual influenza vaccine for free.
Why is it necessary to receive a dose of the influenza vaccine each year?
Each year the strains of the flu virus which are predicted to affect Australians are reviewed and the available vaccines may be changed according to the strains. The protection provided by influenza vaccines wanes after a few months - so it is better for children (and adults) to be vaccinated each year before winter.
Can the influenza vaccine be administered with other childhood vaccines?
Yes the vaccines can be safely administered with other childhood vaccines. As there is a slight risk of increased fever if the flu vaccine is administered on the same day as Prevenar 13, parents may choose to have a 3 day interval between these vaccines.
Are there side effects from influenza vaccine?
Fever, headache, arthralgia and myalgia occur in <15% of those who receive influenza vaccine. Local side effects, such as swelling, redness and pain at the injection site, are also not uncommon. These side effects may commence within a few hours of vaccination and can last for 1–2 days.
Symptoms of influenza
Influenza is common in winter and early spring, and symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, tiredness and muscle aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea. For more information, see the Influenza fact sheet.