Parents urged to protect kids against flu as winter demand strategy is released

SA Gov

South Australian parents are being urged to get their children vaccinated against the flu amid concerns about a low uptake and rising cases, as the Malinauskas Labor Government launches its 2024 winter demand strategy.

At this stage only 5.7 per cent of kids in the under-5 age group in SA have had a flu vaccine meaning the vast majority remain vulnerable to the severe effects of influenza.

A targeted advertising campaign is being launched today across social media, online and at health sites including hospitals and GP clinics seeking to lift the vaccination uptake in this vulnerable group of young children, as well as other at-risk groups.

Already this year, 305 SA children have been diagnosed with the flu, and 28 of those have ended up in hospital.

Across the state there have been 2,368 total reported cases of flu so far this year – an increase of 14 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Hospitalisations are also up, with 268 South Australians hospitalised so far this year, compared to 251 at the same time last year.

The flu vaccine is free for about 600,000 at-risk South Australians, including under 5s, over 65s, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander South Australians and people with pre-existing health conditions.

While South Australia leads the way nationally on flu vaccination rates, with more than 15 per cent of the population overall having had their jab, health chiefs are concerned about the low rate among children aged six months to five years.

The advertising campaign features the key message ‘Stop the flu before it stops them’, warning that children under 5 are more likely to end up in hospital.

Increasing vaccination rates is an important part of the State Government’s winter demand strategy being released today, with more supports than ever in place to help protect South Australians and manage hospital demand.

It focuses on five areas – keeping people well in the community, getting the right care in the right place, more beds and treatment spaces, high-impact interventions to support timely patient flow, and supporting the health workforce.

Protecting those who are at greatest risk of severe disease and hospitalisation from respiratory illness is a key priority. Influenza has an evidenced impact on hospital capacity with 2,184 hospitalisations from flu in South Australia last year.

Increasing the vaccine uptake in under 5s is a priority, with an evaluation of last year’s program showing only around one in four children in this cohort received their flu vaccination, despite this age group being especially vulnerable.

In further efforts to protect the state’s most vulnerable babies and children from respiratory illness this winter, South Australia is rolling out Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) monoclonal antibody medication for the highest risk infants in the state.

In the coming weeks, babies identified to meet the risk criteria will be invited to receive RSV immunisation at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital or Flinders Medical Centre.

Babies who will be offered the preventive medication will be born before 29 weeks’ gestation, or before 32 weeks’ gestation with chronic lung disease of prematurity or congenital heart disease. A small number of other infants with specific health risks may also be included in consultation with their specialist paediatricians.

The winter demand plan also outlines new initiatives that have been introduced over the past 12 months, aimed at easing demand on the hospital system and ensuring people can access the right level of care in the most appropriate setting.

To keep hospital emergency departments available for those in an emergency, the plan centres on directing people with non-urgent health needs to alternative care options in the community as well as digital services.

For those who do need to attend hospital, the Malinauskas Labor Government is increasing bed numbers, with 150 new beds coming online this year alone.

It comes as South Australia recorded its best ramping result in the past six months, with ramping down at every hospital.

Latest figures show ramping decreased by 645 hours in April compared to March, with ambulances spending 3,450 hours on the ramp.

Lyell McEwin Hospital recorded its sixth month in a row of ramping reductions, down 62 per cent in April compared to October last year. It’s the best result at the hospital in the past two years.

The flu vaccine campaign ads can be found here.

The Winter Demand Plan 2024 can be viewed on the SA Health website.

As put by Chris Picton

Protecting children from the flu is so important and we’re urging parents to get their kids vaccinated.

Kids are especially vulnerable to the serious impacts of flu and more likely to end up in hospital.

We’re also releasing our winter demand strategy today which highlights all the levers we are pulling to support South Australians and our hospital system, not just this winter, but all-year-round.

We’re delivering more clinicians, more ambos on the roads, more healthcare options in the community, more digital health services, and more high-impact interventions in our EDs.

It’s pleasing to see a reduction in ramping but we know there is more work to do and we’re getting on with that job. This year alone we’re opening 150 new hospital beds to create more capacity in the system.

Lyell McEwin Hospital is doing particularly well at reducing ramping, with clinicians using clever strategies to bring ramping down by an impressive 62 per cent in seven months. I congratulate the staff for their hard work and determination.

As put by Department for Health and Wellbeing Chief Executive Officer Dr Robyn Lawrence

Our hospitals are busy year-round, but we do tend to see an increase in demand during the winter months as influenza spikes.

That’s why it is so important to protect our most vulnerable populations from severe disease and hospitalisation through simple steps like immunisation and good respiratory hygiene.

We know that not everyone presenting to our EDs needs to be seen in the ED. Some people come to our hospitals because they are unable to access or are unaware of alternative health care options available in the community.

We are keen to raise awareness of the range of options available to South Australians this winter including virtual care services and out-of-hospital providers such as Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, Priority Care Centres, and enhanced pharmacy services.

As put by Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier

With the onset of colder weather everyone needs to be thinking about keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. Simple behaviours like covering coughs and sneezes, hand washing, not going out and about or to work when sick, and getting a flu vaccination are key.

Vaccination is the best protection against the severe consequences of the flu which is why I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. I have had mine, have you had yours?

If you are a parent of a young child, I especially encourage you to get your child vaccinated. Last year, only 28 per cent of South Australian children under five were vaccinated against the flu. That’s why we’re planning a targeted campaign to increase those rates. Let’s make sure all our little ones are protected against flu this year.

I am glad that we can also offer our most vulnerable babies some additional protection this winter with a dose of the RSV monoclonal antibody medication. I particularly want to thank my WA counterpart, Dr Robertson for making this possible.

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