Winter flu jabs in short supply

A WARWICK father says he was forced to travel to Toowoomba to buy Fluvax shots for his four asthmatic children with supplies dwindling in the Rose City.

“I approached all of the Warwick chemists and was told I’d have to be put on a list and basically wait my turn,” the man, who did not want to be named, said.

“I looked around Warwick for two weeks. Every chemist had piles and piles of prescriptions, which had to be filled first, so I decided to try Toowoomba.”

Luckily, the first Toowoomba chemist the Warwick father phoned had the seasonal flu vaccine in stock.

“They just asked ‘how many do you want?’”

But what irked him the most was how much these shots cost, even with his family health-care card.

“It cost us $127 for our family of six ... normally under the PBS (Prescription Benefit Scheme) it would have cost us $4.70,” he said.

“I’m an ex-airforce pensioner and have health issues and my four kids are asthmatics.

“It’s a disgrace the vaccine isn’t affordable and easily accessible to those like us.”

The Federal Government recently announced the Fluvax vaccination had been changed from being covered under the PBS to the National Immunisation Program (NIP), which means the shots are now funded only for groups of “at risk” people.

These groups include people aged 65 years or older, all Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders over 15 years old, pregnant women and any person six months of age or older with medical conditions “predisposing them to severe influenza”.

However, the concerned Warwick father’s four asthmatic children – all aged under 10 – did not fit the category as they were not “severe” asthma sufferers.

They are also not eligible for the alternative vaccination, which is available locally, Intanza, which is administered to 18 to 59-year-olds.

“Disadvantaged people just won’t be able to afford to be vaccinated and, before you know it, you’re going to have an epidemic in Warwick,” he said.

“It’s ludicrous, that’s the only word for it.

“This is an essential medicine, which should be made available easily to everyone who wants it.”

Meanwhile, Warwick Discount Drug Store manager Moe Gaffoor has slammed the government for not consulting pharmacists before placing the flu vaccines under the NIP.

“IT was a big mistake by the government,” Mr Gaffoor said.

“They should have really consulted with the National Pharmacy Guild before they made the change.

“It goes back to what we learnt in high school biology about herd immunity – if the majority of the population are vaccinated, even the weakest are protected.

“What the government has done is only give the weakest that protection.”

He said under the new changes, many who needed the vaccines would miss out.

“We were very concerned from the onset when we heard the announcement so we have been ordering and ordering (Fluvax) and we’re confident in saying everyone on our waiting list has got it,” Mr Gaffoor said.

Duggan’s Amcal Pharmacy manager Abhijit Ghosh echoed Mr Gaffoor’s concerns.

“(More stock) is still not available anywhere, as far as I’ve been told,” Mr Ghosh said.

“We did have some stock but ran out in a few weeks.

“It is a concern coming into flu season. A lot of people will be needing them ...”

Flu vaccine manufacturers yesterday were distancing themselves from the government’s transfer of the vaccine from the PBS to the NIP as being the reason for the shortage, instead blaming last year’s swine flu epidemic and even the Icelandic volcano eruption in April.

A spokeswoman for Commonwealth Serum Laboratories – the only Australian manufacturer of flu vaccines – told the Daily News they had underestimated the demand for their Fluvax product from people not in high-risk groups.

She said delays in overseas air freight caused by the Icelandic volcano eruption in mid-April, which disrupted international flights, had also contributed to the shortage of flu vaccines in Australia.

“Basically what had happened is that due to the swine flu outbreak last year there has been a greater-than-normal demand for the seasonal flu vaccine from people not deemed to be in high-risk groups,” the CSL spokeswoman said.

“We started to hear from GPs that they were getting more requests than usual, which was unforseen.

“That factor combined with delays in overseas shipments of vaccine has resulted in the demand not being fully met.”

The spokeswoman said new domestic and overseas batches of flu vaccine would hit pharmacies “in the next few weeks”.

But she said it was difficult to put an exact timeframe on when they might hit Warwick and other regional centres.

A spokeswoman for Abbott Products, which imports flu vaccine into Australia, said the company had met its “committed orders”, both to the public market via the government tender process and to the private market.

“We were the first to deliver seasonal flu vaccine to the market this season,” she said. “Our vaccines were pre-ordered and delivered on time, well before the Iceland volcano situation.

“We also carry buffer stock in the event that the local demand exceeds our pre-defined orders.

“We have now allocated that as well.”

The Daily News sought comment from Sanofi-Pasteur, which also imports overseas-made flu vaccine into Australia but no response had been received by time of printing.

Flu shots

Influenza vaccination is strongly recommended for the following groups and funded under the NIP:

  • All persons aged 65 years and over;
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 15 years and over;
  • All pregnant women;
  • Individuals six months or older with conditions predisposing them to severe influenza

Influenza vaccine is also strongly recommended (but not funded) for:

  • Residents of nursing homes and residential care facilities who do not meet the criteria above;
  • Homeless people and those providing care to them;
  • Health-care workers;
  • Anyone who works in a nursing home or long-term care facility;
  • Anyone who lives with a person who is in a high-risk category;
  • People providing essential services: eg, police, ambulance;
  • Travellers.

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