Experts say free flu vaccines are working, but there is room for more improvement.

Immunisation providers should offer annual influenza vaccination for children aged between 6 months and 5 years and report it to the Australian Immunisation Register, according to a new article in the MJA.

“Hospitalisation rates for influenza are highest in young children, with annual rates about 100 per 100 000 in those aged 6 to 23 months,” wrote the authors, led by Dr Frank Beard, a public health physician at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, at the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

While the Australian immunisation handbook recommends that all children aged between 6 months and 5 years be vaccinated annually against influenza, the National Immunisation Program only funds the vaccine for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and those children with medical conditions which increase the risk for severe influenza.

Western Australia has funded flu vaccine for all children between 6 months and less than 5 years since 2008, and after the record flu season in 2017, the ACT, NSW, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania also provided funding for the 2018 season.

“National influenza vaccine coverage for young children increased in 2018, reaching 25.6 per cent overall and 29.5 per cent in Indigenous children, which represents a fivefold increase for non-Indigenous children and a twofold increase for Indigenous children compared with 2017,” Dr Beard and colleagues wrote.

“Universal vaccination programs are known to achieve higher coverage than targeted programs.”

The authors make three recommendations:

  • offer ready access to annual influenza vaccination for all children aged 6 months to less than 5 years, ensuring that a second dose is received in the first year of vaccination
  • provide evidence-based information on the benefits of influenza vaccination, addressing any potential misconceptions
  • ensure that all vaccinations given, including all influenza vaccines, are reported to the Australian Immunisation Register