Tasmanian children aged between six months and five years will be eligible for a free flu vaccination this season.
With an estimated cost of $125,000, Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the free program was a “supportive measure” that would help take pressure of hospitals.
“For this group of children the advice is that there’s not many being vaccinated, he said.
“It’s not compulsory and it never has been. But we would like to encourage it and that is why we are paying for it.”
Children who have never had a flu vaccination will need two doses, one month apart.
The vaccine covers four strains of influenza virus – both A and B – and will be available from GPs from April.
Dr Jerome Muir Wilson of Launceston Health Hub said he was encouraging all of his patients to receive the flu vaccination in May.
“Its a great idea to get the flu shot before winter,” he said.
“We have come to learn in the last year or two that the vaccine had its full affect for about three to four months, so having it too early before our peak season in August or September.
“We are encouraging most of our patients to start in early May to have their flu vaccinations, but it is important if people can’t make it in May, anytime before July is a good time.
“On a child, with the influenza you can have very severe cases that result in hospitalisation and very sick children. So it can make a really big difference to young children.”
There were 3505 cases of influenza in Tasmania last year, compared to 1055 in 2016, with 21 deaths due to the flu in 2017.
This included six elderly residents at Strathdevon, an aged care facility in the state’s North-West.
This year two new, stronger flu vaccines have also been made available to older Australians for free.
Dr Muir Wilson said that, combined with the free children’s vaccination was a positive step in combating another deadly outbreak.
“This year we have a super strength vaccination for those patients aged over 65,” he said.
“So combining that with having it later in the season, we hope those 20 Tasmanians that passed away – we can avoid a similar experience this year.
“And not letting them be exposed to it in the first place, with a measure like this childhood vaccination.
“Kids will often mix with their grandparents, so I think this is another good measure to help in that way.”