NSW warns of flu danger, calls for help from ECEC to encourage vaccination
New South Wales Health has used the first days of winter as a pivot point to urge people to get their flu shots now, if they have not already, to give the best possible protection against the potentially deadly virus. Given the prevalence of flu and flu like illnesses in vulnerable populations, such as children under five, those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) have been asked to help spread the word – and not the germs.
Director of Communicable Diseases for NSW Health, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said there are sufficient supplies of flu vaccine available for people eligible for free state-funded shots, including for children aged under five.
“Getting the flu jab now is critical to reducing the risk of having the potentially lethal virus, particularly as it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection,” Dr Sheppeard said. The latest Influenza Surveillance Report shows 1843 confirmed flu cases for the week ending 26 May, higher than the 1330 notifications in the previous week, pointing to signs that this season may be worse than in previous years.
There have been 43 confirmed deaths from flu so far this year, compared with an annual total of 40 deaths in 2018 and 559 in 2017. Surveillance data captures only a proportion of people who die with influenza, and people who die with influenza often have other underlying illnesses.
“We urge parents of children under five years of age and those vulnerable to the virus – like elderly people, pregnant women and those with other illnesses – to visit their GP as soon as possible for a flu shot,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Children under nine years of age having the shot for the first time require two doses, one month apart. Vaccination is the best defence against flu, but to help prevent transmission, it was important to teach children to cough and sneeze into their elbow, clean their hands regularly and encourage parents to keep children home when sick.
The NSW Government is spending $22.75 million on statewide immunisation programs which will assist with flu prevention this season. This includes $2.6 million for free flu shots to children up to five years of age and a $1.5 million immunisation and influenza awareness campaign.
NSW Health is encouraging parents to organise their children’s flu shots as soon as possible, by collaborating with childcare centres and schools, working closely with Local Health Networks and promoting flu vaccination through radio and digital advertising.
For more information on current numbers of flu cases in NSW, see here: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/Influenza/Publications/2019/weekending-26052019.pdf