By The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care
It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago New South Wales was going into their devastating Delta lockdown.
This winter, life is pretty much back to normal; workers are going into work, kids are back at school, and parents and kids are shivering through weekend sport.
Without daily press conferences, it’s easy to forget we’re still in a global pandemic and that we face very real challenges this winter.
There are currently tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases reported every day, and thousands of Australians in hospital with the disease. Hundreds of Australians are dying every week.
We also have the significant threat of influenza for the first time in years.
To get through winter, we need to increase third and fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccinations.
The health advice is clear: you are not fully protected against the Omicron variant unless you have at least a third dose of the vaccine.
New research from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance has found a (third) booster vaccine dose provides 65 per cent greater protection against hospitalisation or death from the Omicron variant, compared to just two doses.
That is why you will see new advertisements from the Government over the next few weeks urging Australians to stay up to date with your vaccinations, especially boosters.
And we need to protect our children. Unlike COVID-19, young children are one of the at-risk groups for influenza.
Almost 60 per cent of people admitted to hospital with a condition associated with the flu have been children under the age of 16.
My message to parents is to protect their kids – particularly those under the age of five – through vaccination.
For people in at-risk population groups, free annual flu shots are available through the Australian Government’s National Immunisation Program. This includes all children aged from six months to under five years, people aged 65 years and older, pregnant women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the age of six months.
While vaccination is the best possible defence for COVID-19, there are new oral treatments that can be taken at home which are very effective at preventing serious disease. Our research indicates that the vast bulk of the Australian population are still not aware of these treatments and uptake is low.
These oral antivirals must be taken as soon as possible—right after symptoms appear.
If you’re aged over 65, or over 50 and an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or if you are immunocompromised, speak to your doctor about whether these new medications are right for you.
Develop a plan in the event you get COVID. If you get a positive test, ring your GP and seek a telehealth appointment immediately.
It’s clear we still have a tough winter ahead of us. Hospitals and the health system are under very real pressure.
But we do have the tools to get through winter safely
With COVID-19 and the flu posing significant threats to the health of the Australian population this winter, the message is clear: get vaccinated.
To parents of young children not yet vaccinated against the flu, make an appointment – today.
If you or a loved one have not had a flu vaccine this year, make an appointment – today.
And if you’re eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster and haven’t had it, make a booking – today. It’s safe to have both at the same time.