INFLUENZA VACCINATIONS

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: My question is to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Will the minister update the council on public health initiatives?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for his question. The Marshall Liberal government has a strong, demonstrated commitment to public health. We introduced the meningococcal B vaccination program and catch-up, the first in Australia for children and infants and the first for young adults in the world. We also introduced free flu vaccines for under-fives, and we are working to have pharmacists give flu vaccines to children aged 10 years and above, dropping the threshold from 16 years.

Today, we added another program to the raft of measures that this government has and is taking to protect South Australians. I was delighted to be able to stand alongside Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier, the Chief Public Health Officer, and Minister for Human Services, Michelle Lensink, as we announced that South Australians experiencing homelessness will be able to get a flu shot free of charge.

Currently, more than 6,000 people are thought to be homeless in South Australia. Some of these people sleep rough, some in supported accommodation, others in makeshift shelters, including tents. Not surprisingly, people who are experiencing homelessness often face greater challenges in accessing health services than the general population. Providing people experiencing homelessness with the opportunity to have a free flu vaccine is a tangible way of helping them avoid the flu or minimising its impact if they do get the flu. It also contributes to stopping the spread of influenza through the broader community.

As part of this initiative all South Australian GPs and immunisation providers will be able to offer the vaccinations free of charge to people experiencing homelessness. In addition, drop-in services like Streetlink Youth Health services and RDNS will be able to provide the vaccine free of charge to any eligible clients.

This year, with the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, it's more important than ever to make sure that as many people as possible get a flu shot. The flu vaccine won't protect you against COVID-19, but it can help to prevent South Australians suffering both at the same time, or potentially facing COVID-19 weakened by exposure to the flu.

We don't know what level of severity this year's flu will bring, but the memory of last year's flu strain and the challenge of responding to COVID-19 are very much at the forefront of the minds of public health clinicians and reflected in the steps we are taking to minimise the impact of communicable diseases. The provision of free flu vaccines to people experiencing homelessness is another step towards herd immunity and a way of easing pressure on emergency departments as the flu season approaches.

I join with our public health officials in urging all South Australians to be vigilant in protecting themselves against the flu this year through vaccinations and good hand hygiene. It's more important than ever that everyone in our community practises 'Wash, wipe, cover…don't infect another.'


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