Health authorities fear the oncoming flu season could put further strain on the hospital system just as the number of COVID-19 cases nears its peak.
Around the country, local and federal health departments are hoping more Australians than normal get flu shots, and are encouraging them to get the treatment sooner than normal.
"We are encouraging every Canberran to get their flu shot this year," ACT Health Minister Rachel Steven-Smith said.
"We had a very busy flu season in 2019, putting pressure on our GPs and hospitals. As we face COVID-19, we need to ensure that our hospitals and health care staff are able to focus on responding to this pandemic."
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has also changed its advice on flu vaccine timing due to COVID-19.
"In a normal flu season, the RACGP advises people to wait until May to receive their flu vaccination," college president Dr Harry Nespolon said.
"But with the spread of COVID-19, this is not a normal season."
Private flu vaccinations are now available at pharmacists and General Practitioners at a small fee.
However, those aged 65 and over are advised to wait for a specific flu vaccine- the Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine (QIV) that will be available in mid-April.
The Australian Medical Association ACT branch president Dr Antonio Di Dio urged Canberrans to take the seasonal flu seriously.
"In a normal, typical, boring Australian year, 3000 people die from the flu and nobody really notices.
"This year, because we have a vulnerable population from COVID-19, it's super important that those people get protected from the normal flu."
Dr Di Dio said the Australian government has increased the supply of flu vaccines.
"Last year the government purchased seven million flu vaccinations. This year they've purchased 15 million vaccinations," he said.
Dr Di Dio said normally getting vaccinated earlier in the season was problematic.
"In previous years there has been some disagreement in relation to the private vaccination being given too early, so that its benefit wore off.
"Whereas this year it's so vitally important that as many Australians as possible get vaccinated. Any time from now is reasonable."
Pharmacy guild of Australia ACT branch President Simon Blacker said most ACT pharmacies were well stocked and taking extra precautions.
"Pharmacies are spacing out influenza vaccination appointments so there are fewer people in the pharmacy at one time," Mr Blacker said. Some staff were also wearing face marks or encouraging customers to take similar precautions.
People in higher risk groups are eligible to get free flu vaccines in 2020. They include:
- Children aged 6 months to less than 5 years.
- All Aboriginal and Torres strait islander people aged 6 months and over.
- Pregnant women. Flu vaccines are safe at any stage of pregnancy.
- All people aged 65 and over.
- People aged 6 months and over with any chronic illness that may increase the risk of complications from the flu.
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