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NSW flu vaccination stalls as COVID-19 hospitalisations rise

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In the past 30 days, there were 23,000 cases aged in their 60s, more than in children aged under 10 or those aged 10 to 19, a contrast to earlier in the year when COVID-19 was most prevalent among children and young adults.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant is anticipating a surge in influenza cases through winter and into spring.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant is anticipating a surge in influenza cases through winter and into spring.Credit:Peter Rae

“If you’re getting an older distribution of cases, that equals more entry to hospital and also longer stays,” Dore said.

More than half of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 between June 4 and 18 were aged 70 and over.

In January, the state government suspended elective surgery services and re-introduced restrictions after the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 hit 1600. However, hospitalisations reached 1700 in late April with no restrictions introduced.

As the hospital system deals with more flu-related admissions, Chant said that influenza immunisation rates “aren’t where they needed to be”.

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Despite the state government making flu shots free for people aged five to 64 during June, the latest data shows that by Sunday only 27 per cent of people in this age group were vaccinated, a slow increase from 16 per cent four weeks earlier.

Shots were already free for children aged six months to five years, over 65s (of whom more than 75 per cent are vaccinated), and other at-risk groups under the federal government’s program.

“Only about one in three people in NSW have received their influenza vaccine this year and we really need to see that number go up, especially among vulnerable groups such as young children and older people who are most at risk of severe illness,” Chant said.

There have been 9.2 million flu vaccines administered nationally. Despite most states also offering free shots in June, uptake is lower than the 13.2 million in 2019 and the record 18 million administered in 2020. However, it is more than the 8.3 million flu vaccines given in 2017, considered to be the country’s worst recent flu season.

At Milsons Point Medical Centre in Sydney’s north, practice manager Sarah Addison said demand for flu shots had started to slow down, after an initial rush when the free shots were announced.

“This is the first week we have had spare appointments,” she said.

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