I encourage Australians to get a flu shot as more than six million doses of influenza vaccine become available for free for eligible people through the Federal-Government funded National Immunisation Program (NIP).

On the advice of the medical authorities vaccines are being distributed to states and territories and will be available from mid-April to help protect Australians against this year’s influenza virus.

Those eligible for a free flu vaccine include people aged 65 years and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older and people aged sixth months or older with certain medical conditions which put them at risk of severe influenza.

Pregnant women are also eligible for a free flu vaccine – it’s safe to receive at any stage of pregnancy to protect both mother and baby.

All Australians are encouraged to take up the opportunity to be vaccinated this year.

Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for any person six months of age and older, with vaccines also available on the private market.

It’s important to get vaccinated against influenza every year, as the virus changes year to year.

Elderly Australians continue to experience a high burden of disease with 75 per cent of influenza-associated deaths in 2018 occurring in people aged 65 years and older.

To address this, an enhanced vaccine will again be available this year for Australians aged 65 years and over.

This vaccine is specifically targeted at this age group, offering better protection than other available vaccines.

Clinical experts have advised that optimal protection against influenza occurs within the first three to four months following vaccination.

Getting vaccinated from mid-April allows protection during the peak influenza transmission period, from around June to September in most parts of Australia.

Immunisation is critical to maintaining public health and preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases.

Through the National Immunisation Program, the Australian Government provides vaccines at no cost to eligible Australians including children, adolescents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pregnant women, and people over 65 years against 17 vaccine-preventable diseases.

By law, in order for a vaccine to be listed on the NIP, it must be recommended by the independent medical experts at the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

The Government lists all medicines and vaccines recommended by the independent expert committee.

Last year alone, we invested $430 million in vaccines and activities which boost immunisation through the NIP.

This year we have added vaccination program to protect against meningococcal ACWY will be available for adolescents from April 2019 through a $52 million investment from the Government.

This program enhances the infant meningococcal ACWY program, which commenced in July 2018.

We have invested an additional $12 million across the next three years in expanding and extending the reach of our current Get the Facts about immunisation campaign.

Our immunisation rates for Australians aged 5 years is amongst the highest in the world with currently 94.67 per cent of all five year old children, nearing the herd immunity rate of 95 per cent.

Last year a record 11 million Australians got a flu shot and I hope that we reach another record this year.

For more information visit the Department of Health immunisation website at: www.health.gov.au/immunisation