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Friday, May 24, 2024

Canberrans urged to get ‘flu vaccines before winter

The influenza season has started early, and could be worse than last year, the Royal Australian College of GPs warned recently: there were 1.7 times as many cases in the first three months of this year as there were in the same period last year, and 11 Queenslanders had died of the virus by the start of April, the ABC reported.

Emma Davidson, ACT Minister for Population Health, had her ’flu vaccine this week, at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, and urged Canberrans – especially children, the elderly, and Indigenous people – to do likewise.

“Now is a really good time for people to think about winter wellness, to think about how you can protect yourself and protect everyone around you from some of those respiratory illnesses that we know come around every year,” Ms Davidson said.

Winnunga Nimmityjah nurse manager Michele Clarke gives Emma Davidson MLA her vaccine, watched by acting practice manager Sharon Ingram. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

“It’s important to get your vaccinations every year at the start of the season before you’ve come into contact with lots of people who might have these viruses, and make sure that your immune system is feeling at its strongest…

“We have the power to protect the people around us by maintaining our vaccinations. It might be Nan; it might be someone at work who’s got someone at home that they are a carer for who’s immunocompromised; it might be a person that you’re passing in the street, and you don’t know what health conditions they might already have.”

Flu can cause complications like pneumonia, sepsis, and hospitalisation, and First Nations people are more vulnerable because of their increased amount of comorbidities, including diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, Winnunga Nimmityjah’s senior medical officer, Dr Eric Sambaiew, said.

Winnunga’s deputy CEO, Simon Costello, encouraged First Nations people to get a free vaccination at the clinic.

“We’ve got to be mindful of our elders and our vulnerable people; we need to look after them and take responsibility to keep ourselves and others around us safe in this ’flu period coming up,” Mr Costello said.

Under the National Immunisation Program, the influenza vaccine is free for First Nations people; children aged six months to five years; people aged 65 and older; pregnant women; and people with underlying medical conditions.

Canberrans should also make sure their COVID-19 boosters are up to date, Ms Davidson advised; 52 new cases of COVID-19 were reported this week, according to the ACT Government.

“It continues to be a worry for those people who might have pre-existing health conditions, for older people in our community, and for people whose immune systems may be compromised,” Ms Davidson said. “So it’s really important that we all as a community keep up to date with our boosters.”

Influenza and COVID-19 vaccines are available from GPs, pharmacies, and public health facilities including Winnunga Nimmityjah, early childhood immunisation clinics, and ACT Health antenatal clinics.

To stay well, ACT deputy chief medical officer Dr Sally Singleton advised the public to stay up to date with vaccinations; wash or sanitise your hands frequently; cough and sneeze into your elbow; stay at home if unwell; use a mask if you need to leave the house; stay active, eat well, look after your mental health, spend time outdoors, and get enough sleep.

“Quite often when you’re looking at people you love and care about and who are feeling sick, all we want to do is to be able to make them feel better,” Ms Davidson said. “We can prevent that happening in the first place by reducing transmission.

“One of the great strengths of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is that they think a lot about how best to protect their older members of the community. That’s something I think we can all follow their lead on and take a leaf out of their book to protect people in our community who might be more at risk by getting vaccinated ourselves.”

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