Free flu shot for kids under five
Every child aged from six months to five years will get a free flu shot from next year.
The influenza vaccine will be added to the National Immunisation Program following a recommendation by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, who will announce the move today, said: "From early next year, for the first time, all Australian children aged six months to five years, not just those with medical risk factors, will be able to receive the seasonal flu vaccine free of charge."
Until now only high-risk groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, those with medical conditions, pregnant women and people aged over 65 could receive the vaccine for free.
Mr Hunt said the seasonal influenza vaccine would not be included in the requirements for accessing Child Care Benefits, the Child Care Rebate or Family Tax Benefits under No Jab No Pay rules.
"The influenza vaccine is seasonal and therefore not available all year round. In addition, children will become eligible to receive the vaccine at different times, which may not align with the other routine childhood immunisation schedule points or the influenza season," Mr Hunt said.
There has been 245,505 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza so far this year, five times the rate last year, and 587 deaths, up from 69 last year.
Of those, 98,376 flu cases and 16 deaths were in people under the age of 20.
Immunisation Coalition chairman Professor Robert Booy said influenza affected children under five more seriously because they had limited exposure to the virus.
"Children under five are naive to the influenza virus, so they often get a higher viral load, get sicker and they are more likely to transmit," Prof Booy said.
"They are mini bioterrorists that transmit like crazy to parents, siblings and daycare. Healthy children also account for half of all hospitalisations for influenza."
The addition of the vaccine coincides with the latest immunisation rates, which have now hit a record high of 94.85 per cent.
Olivia Cheung's triplets Winston, Ashton and Triton were born eight weeks early two years ago, so the Maroubra mum had them vaccinated against influenza this year.
"I had them first vaccinated in May and again last month because they seem to pick up everything," she said.
"And the flu affects the younger ones more. I've seen other mums having to take their children to hospital this year."