Determined Australians anxious to get a flu vaccination can still get their hands on remaining stock, but it may take some effort.
Government vaccine supplies have been almost exhausted by unprecedented demand spurred by last year’s deadly influenza season.
However doctors and pharmacists say it’s not impossible to get a vaccine, especially if you’re willing to shop around.
Some pharmacies are even offering paid flu vaccines for healthy people, despite state health authorities requesting that doses be rationed for the most vulnerable.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone said some doctors surgeries still had supplies, and he encouraged people considered at higher risk of complications not to put off vaccination.
This includes pregnant women, people with medical risk factors and the elderly – those eligible for a free shot through the National Immunisation Program.
“They should be getting the vaccine now,” Dr Bartone said.
Anthony Tassone, from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said several pharmacy operators were telling young and healthy adult customers to return for a vaccine in a week or two, when they hope supply will improve.
Andrew Farmer, co-owner of the Terry White Chemmart Pharmacy in Hawthorn, is among those who still has supplies for all adults, including the enhanced vaccines for the over 65s and government-supplied vaccines for people with underlying illness.
He said he expects to start running low next week and noted demand had increased following the news of a shortage.
“Today we did nearly 50 vaccines, which is about 15 more than a normal day,” he said on Monday.
“But the publicity hasn’t been fully accurate in the fact that there are at lot of pharmacies that still have stock.”
Jarrod McMaugh from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia estimated about half of pharmacies still had access to influenza vaccines.
Mr McMaugh said at one stage last week there were about 5000 vaccines available from his wholesaler, until they suddenly disappeared.
He said his Coburg North pharmacy had been receiving prescriptions for paid vaccines because the government-funded stock was not available.
Almost 10 million doses of flu vaccine have already been released through the National Immunisation Program, state programs and the private market this year – a 26.5 per cent increase from 2017.
That includes 3.4 million doses of super-strength vaccines for those over 65.
To cope with the surge in demand, about 800,000 extra vaccines are in the pipeline to be distributed in June and July, ahead of the likely influenza peak in August and September.
“I do want to stress for the Australian public that there is still time for them to be vaccinated,” said Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anthony Hobb.
However Dr Bartone, who was appointed Australian Medical Association president on Sunday, said there were lessons to be learnt from the shortage.
“It’s easy to be smart in hindsight, but if you had a horror season you’d want to be prepared next year, you don’t want to run out,” he said.
Dr Bartone said he understood the need to be prudent with health dollars, but governments also had to consider the downstream costs of the flu when making decisions on vaccine supply.
“On the back of a really scary season last year and a very emotive media campaign to get people vaccinated, I think they have even been surprised by their own success.”
While influenza generally claims the lives of thousands of elderly and sick Australians each year, the 2017 season was marked by a number of particularly tragic cases, including the death of a number of children.< Go Back