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Monday, 21 May 2018
Page: 3825

Health Care

I refer to your letter of 6 Mary 2018 concerning a petition for free influenza vaccines for children.

As you are aware, the Australian Government is a strong supporter of immunisation in recognition that it is a safe way to prevent the spread of many diseases like influenza. While the Government supports vaccination, it is not our intention to make immunisation mandatory.

Seasonal influenza vaccination is recommended for any person over six months of age who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza. Through the National Immunisation Program (NIP), the Government provides free seasonal influenza vaccines to groups most at risk of infection with and poor outcomes from influenza. These groups include those aged six months and older with medical conditions that predispose them to severe influenza.

Free seasonal influenza vaccines are also available through the NIP for a range of other at risk groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged six months to less than five years, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait [slander people 15 years and older.

Given the burden of disease amongst the elderly in 2017 including many deaths, the Government has prioritised access to targeted vaccines for the elderly in 2018. I had the pleasure of announcing with the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcom Turnbull MP, on 18 February 2018 that the new vaccines will be made available specifically for those aged 65 years and older through the NIP from April this year.

Under the National Health ACT 1953, the Government cannot consider funding a vaccine for a specific cohort on the NIP unless it has first been recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC). To date, PBAC has not recommended expanding the coverage of influenza vaccines to other groups not already covered under the NIP.

The Government continues to monitor influenza burden and outcomes across the community. This includes commissioning modelling to better understand the burden of seasonal influenza and the impact of vaccination programs. The outcomes from this modelling will be used to inform influenza vaccination policy and programs into the future.

Thank you for writing on this important matter. Yours sincerely

from the Minister for Health, The Hon Greg Hunt MP