Free flu campaign in WA to combat triple-virus-threat winter

WA Minister for Health and Mental Health Amber-Jade Sanderson

Throughout the month of May, all West Australians can receive a free influenza vaccination in their local pharmacy.

Last Friday (21 April 2023), WA became the first jurisdiction to fund a free influenza vaccine program ahead of this year’s potentially serious flu season.

The announcement follows fears of a ‘triple-virus threat’ this winter, with 694 influenza cases reported in March – a record in WA – and COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases continuing to emerge.

The PSA WA President Lusi Sheehan has urged all West Australians to get their flu vaccine before winter, amid fears of low vaccination and immunity rates.

‘In 2022, only 35.8% of West Australians got their influenza vaccine, below the national average of 38.7%,’ she said.

PSA WA Branch President Lusi Sheehan MPS

This is also the first winter in WA where all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, placing the state in a position of potentially increased exposure, said PSA WA State Manager Mayli Foong MPS.

‘Mask mandates on public and passenger transport and crowded spaces eased from 9 September 2022, so all through that winter, a lot of people were still wearing masks,’ she said.

However, since WA pharmacists have been able to vaccinate children aged 5 years and over, with the eligible age reduced from 10 in April 2022, more families can come into pharmacies for their flu vaccines together – improving ease of access. Children 6 months to <5 years can continue to receive their vaccine free from their general practitioner. 

‘We need to do everything we can to protect Australian children, who can be influenza super-spreaders, by increasing access to vaccination and providing them and their families with optimal protection against this deadly disease,’ said Ms Sheehan.

Campaign details

There will be no no out-of-pocket cost for West Australians to receive National Immunization Program (NIP) influenza vaccines for the duration of the campaign.

This includes influenza vaccines for patients aged 5 years and over, and Fluad Quad for patients aged 65 and over, which is the preferred vaccine for this age cohort. 

Patients without a Medicare card are also eligible for free influenza vaccines under the campaign, provided vaccine administration is recorded in the Australian Immunisation Register.

While the Health Minister’s ‘timely’ announcement gives pharmacists plenty of time to plan their flu clinic, Ms Foong said they should prepare for a busy month ahead.

‘Pharmacists should expect an increase in bookings and walk-in patients requesting their free flu vaccine,’ she said. ‘[Workflow], staffing, stock and the timing of flu clinics need to be worked out.’

GP pharmacist and State Manager of PSA’s Western Australia Branch Mayli Foong MPS
State Manager of PSA’s West Australian Branch Mayli Foong MPS

Opportunistic vaccination for both influenza and COVID-19 should also be a consideration.

‘We should use this [campaign] as an opportunity to ask patients if they have had their flu vaccine and if they would consider having it done today,’ said Ms Foong.

‘Now is also the time to make sure your COVID-19 vaccinations are up to date, influenza and COVID-19 vaccines can be given on the same day,’ added WA Minister for Health and Mental Health Amber-Jade Sanderson.

Pharmacists must register to participate in and be remunerated for administering influenza vaccines under the campaign here. NIP-funded influenza vaccine stock can be ordered here.

Advocacy success

Since the conclusion of the 2022 influenza vaccine campaign, the PSA WA branch has been in continuous discussions with the state’s Health Minister’s office to advocate for free flu vaccines for the coming year, said Ms Foong.

The PSA also successfully advocated for an increase in remuneration for participating pharmacists, who will receive $20 plus Good and Services Tax (GST) for each vaccine administered with government-supplied stock, and $29 plus GST for privately procured stock. 

‘While remuneration increased since the 2022 campaign, it’s not where PSA wants it to be,’ said Ms Foong.

‘Our continuous advocacy plan to the state government is to improve [pharmacists] access to all government-funded vaccines, allowing pharmacist immunisers to administer all vaccines to patients of all ages to increase vaccination rates and herd immunity across WA.’

Want to strengthen your immunisation skills this World Immunisation Week (24–30 April 2023)? PSA’s Immunisation Online Refresher Course can help you prepare for a busy flu season ahead.