Over-65s are being urged to book in for “free” new influenza vaccines as hospitals brace for the impact of winter flu cases at the same time as they grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.
The new four-strain Fluad Quad shot offers no protection against the coronavirus pandemic, but Health Minister Greg Hunt hopes it will help doctors reduce the numbers of seasonal flu cases and – as a result – make it easier to spot a COVID-19 case that can involve similar symptoms.
Mr Hunt announced on Wednesday that 13.5 million doses of seasonal flu vaccines (including Fluad Quad, which is designed for older adults) had been approved for all Australians under the National Immunisation Program in a bid to further sandbag the health system in the fight against coronavirus.
Pregnant women, indigenous Australians and children aged between six months and five years will also secure the new flu shot for free. Other Australians can get the vaccine but will need to pay for it.
“Receiving a vaccination from April provides optimal protection in the peak period of influenza circulation, usually from June to September in most parts of Australia,’’ Mr Hunt said.
“This year it is even more important to be vigilant about the flu because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is not yet a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, vaccination provides an effective defence against the flu.”
✅I got my flu 💉 today & everyone else should be following suit. It’s one of the only reasons you should be leaving home. #COVID-19 will hit us hard and only be made worse if we have a bad flu season. Call your local GP or pharmacist to book in your jab today. #springst pic.twitter.com/6I6DCquzv5
— Jenny Mikakos MP #StayHomeSaveLives (@JennyMikakos) March 31, 2020
Queenslanders are also being urged to join a ‘care army’ and adopt-a-senior who is self-isolating due to COVID-19 by helping deliver medicines in a government-backed scheme that could be rolled out nationally.
The Morrison government has so far resisted calls for a government-backed volunteer scheme. But multiple communities and Facebook groups are already offering similar schemes in suburbs across Australia.
In Britain, the National Health Service was inundated when it asked for volunteers under a similar scheme to help deliver food and medicines to seniors.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the plan on Wednesday, urging volunteers to call to register to help.
“I want Queenslanders to join our care army and support a senior in your suburb,” she said.
“We can all do this. What does it mean? It means basic things, there may be someone living next door, or down the road, it’s about checking in, getting their contact number, leaving something in their letterbox, or contacting a number we are going to give to you shortly, and hopping on the phone and saying, how are you?. Do you want to have a chat about things?
The Queensland government said volunteers would be asked to practice social distancing and care to protect the health of seniors when dropping off supplies.
“It’s also about doing some grocery shopping for them, and leaving it at their front door. And perhaps they may leave a script in their letter box and you can go and get the script,” she said.
“I know some people have already started phoning up the Queensland government. We’re going to be inundated, I know that, and that is fantastic. But please be patient. We got about 30 people at the moment, they’re ready to take your calls. This is your chance to make a difference.”
Queensland Labor frontbencher Kate Jones urged people to talk to seniors in their own family to ask about their needs.
“Last time we had a crisis, we asked Queenslanders to put on their gumboots. Today, we’re asking Queenslanders to make a call,” she said.
“As the Premier said, we know the most vulnerable people in our community, that are most vulnerable to coronavirus, are actually our seniors.
“We’re calling on all Queenslanders to think about who, in your own life, are those people who are over 65, or over 70, that you know, that you can help with key basics such as groceries, medicine, and also companionship.
Ms Jones said her own family had made the call not to see her mother, who is in her 60s, because she is also the primary carer for the family’s 91-year-old grandmother.
“We as a family had to make a decision that my mother can no longer see my children while she’s the primary carer of a 91-year-old. That’s a family decision,” she said.
“We’re calling on other families across Queensland to sit down, call each other, think about what is the best way that you can support the most vulnerable in your own family, to ensure they are getting the support services that they need.”