NSW Health is urging pregnant women, the elderly and other high-risk groups to take advantage of a free flu vaccination – now available from GPs – ahead of the winter flu season.
A vaccine protecting against the four likely circulating influenza strains is free for people eligible under the National Immunisation Program. This includes those who are pregnant, over 65 years of age, have severe asthma, diabetes and heart conditions, as well as Aboriginal people aged from six months up to five years and 15 years of age and over.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases, NSW Health, said it was vital for pregnant women to have the flu jab as they had an increased risk of hospitalisation, intensive care admission, pre-term delivery and possibly death if they caught the flu.
“The flu vaccination is very safe for expectant mothers and their babies and also provides protection in the infant’s early months,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“Pregnant women and people of all ages with chronic disease in Australia can receive the vaccination for free so I urge all eligible people to take up this opportunity to protect themselves and prevent unnecessary hospitalisation.
“Children born to vaccinated mothers have a reduced risk of contracting influenza in the first months of life.”
Dr Sheppeard said only about 29 per cent of pregnant women in NSW were vaccinated against the flu last year and only about half of those with diabetes were vaccinated despite being eligible for the free vaccine. Less than 40 per cent of asthma sufferers in younger age groups took advantage of the free vaccine.
“We encourage all people to get the flu vaccine but particularly the more vulnerable groups who not only have a higher chance of getting the flu but are more severely impacted by it.”
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) recommends that pregnant women be vaccinated early in the flu season as optimal protection takes effect four to six weeks after vaccination.
Influenza, commonly known as ‘the flu’, is a highly contagious illness. The virus is transmitted easily from person-to-person via droplets and small particles produced when infected people cough or sneeze, and through hand contact with contaminated surfaces. Influenza is characterised by a sudden high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, feeling unwell, and sore throat.
For more information see the NSW Health influenza fact sheet.