health

Three children have now died. The choice to receive the flu vaccine isn’t just about you.

With AAP.

Three children have died from influenza this year. They were aged three, six, and 11 years of age.

They died, in Australia, from an illness for which there is a freely available vaccination. It is a tragedy we can all learn from.

The children are amongst the 26 victims in Victoria whose deaths have been attributed to contracting the flu in 2019. The other 23 people were aged care residents. In South Australia, 27 people have died, and in Queensland, 25.

Why so many Australians are dying from the flu. Post continues after podcast. 

But of course, that’s not the end of it. This year’s flu season is tracking to be one of the worst on record – and the peak is still over a month away.

Experts predict about 4000 people will die from complications due to influenza this year.

There have already been up to 40,000 influenza notifications, which is about three times the numbers at the same time last year.

Australia, this is serious. And if you don’t think you need to worry about yourself, and get a flu shot that could save your life, think again.

Senior medical virologist William Rawlinson said he expected up to two million people would be infected with the flu this year and that the virus would peak in July or August – meaning the highest risk is yet to come.

Luckily, all of us have access to a life-saving vaccine; the flu shot.

NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said in a statement, “The best weapon against flu is vaccination and right now is the best time to have it.”

This isn’t new news – the government and medical profession have been urging Australians to become vaccinated against this year’s strain, for months. Part of the pre-Winter warning is because flu season arrived early.

“It’s important to get your flu shots now as it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection,” Dr Sheppeard advised.

“And children under nine years of age having the shot for the first time require two doses, one month apart.

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“Children are particularly susceptible to flu, so parents and carers are being urged to take up the offer of the free flu vaccine for children aged from six months up to five
years, under the NSW Government’s $2.6 million program.”

That’s a fairly hefty price tag for a health program, but that’s not even all of it. The NSW government alone is spending approximately $22.75 million dollars in the immunisation program this year.

There’s a reason why these big bucks are being spent by the government, it’s because whilst the symptoms of the flu sound common enough – cough, fatigue, muscle aches and high fever – the consequences can be fatal.

For anyone.

Which is another reason why this year’s flu is a problem for everyone; and why as many people as possible should get themselves vaccinated.

“The more people who are immunised, the more we can protect the more vulnerable in the community from having the disease transmitted to them,” Dr Trupti Prasad, a pediatrician in Melbourne told Mamamia.

The young lives that have been lost; we don’t know if those children were vaccinated, but even if they weren’t (and some can’t be, due to certain allergies or other illnesses), perhaps if more of us had been protected, we could have protected them.

But we can’t offer that protection to our most vulnerable members of society if people think they don’t need to do it for themselves.

If people think they’re healthy and believe they don’t need to bother with a vaccine, we put at greater risk those whose immunity may be compromised, such as children, the elderly, or those that are unwell. The people who can’t get immunised, and who wouldn’t be strong enough to ‘fight it off’.

Perhaps, people just like those like the three, six, and 11-year-olds who lost their lives this year.

In most states, the flu vaccine has been distributed to GPs and pharmacies, and many Australians can get the jab for free – thanks to the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

The vaccine is there for us to use.

So, to those of you who won’t get a shot because you’re not worried about yourselves, please consider this: the flu is not just about you.

Nama Winston has had a decade-long legal career (paid), and a decade-long parenting career (unpaid). Now a Mamamia Contributor and freelance writer, Nama uses her past experience as a lawyer to discuss everything from politics, to parenting. You can follow her on Instagram: @namawinston and Facebook: @NamaWinston.

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