Australia’s first cell-based flu vax joins NIP

5 minute read

Official flu season might still be months away, but cases continue to spike across the country right now.

Australia’s first cell-based quadrivalent influenza vaccine is to be made available on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for the 2024 flu season. 

The move means patients at higher risk of complications from the flu will have free access to the vaccine. It is also expected to be available to other Australians who are prepared to pay for it.  

The announcement comes as influenza notifications rise across the country, with a Department of Health and Aged Care spokesman describing numbers as “currently higher than expected for the interseasonal period (November to March)”. 

According to the National Communicable Disease Surveillance Dashboard accessed on 5 February, there have been 10,230 notifications of laboratory confirmed influenza this year. 

“This may be due to an increase in disease circulation in the community and waning protection from seasonal Influenza vaccinations given during the 2023 season but may also be impacted by changes in health-seeking behaviour associated with current increases in covid-19 circulation in many jurisdictions, such as increased testing for respiratory infections,” the spokesman told TMR. 

“It is too early to tell how the 2024 influenza season will develop, but vaccination remains the most effective way of preventing serious illness from influenza.”   

NSW has carried the bulk of cases (4354) so far this year, followed by Queensland (2638), Victoria (2018), South Australia (652), Western Australia (552), the ACT (143), Tasmania (89) and the Northern Territory (54). 

There were 288,993 cases of laboratory confirmed cases reported in Australia in 2023, according to the surveillance system. 

Flucelvax Quad is manufactured by Australian company CSL Seqirus and will be available on the NIP in 2024 for at-risk Australians aged five to 64 years. This includes: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged five to 64 years.  
  • Pregnant women.   
  • People aged five to 64 years with co-existing medical conditions, including: cardiac disease, chronic respiratory conditions, chronic neurological conditions, immunocompromising conditions, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, chronic renal failure and functional or anatomical asplenia. 
  • Children aged five to 10 years who are undergoing long-term aspirin therapy. 

The vaccine is the first and only cell-based influenza vaccine available in Australia, approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in adults and children aged six months and older.  

Manufacturing the vaccine in cell culture eliminates mutations that can occur during the traditional egg-based manufacturing process.  

Cell-based vaccines are designed to be a close match to the strains selected by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as likely to be prevalent for the upcoming flu season.    

According to a recent study, cell-based flu vaccines demonstrated between 10% and 15% greater relative effectiveness in preventing test-confirmed influenza among people aged four to 64 years of age, across three recent seasons in the United States (2017/18 – 2019/20) compared to traditional egg-based vaccines. 

University of Sydney infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Booy said access to Flucelvax Quad vaccine via the NIP for the upcoming flu season was welcome news for healthcare professionals and their eligible patients.  

“Seasonal circulation of influenza is expected to continue, which means vulnerable groups remain at high risk of infection and potentially life-threatening complications,” he said.   

 “Being able to offer a cell-based influenza vaccine to vulnerable patients on the NIP gives us an important option for protection against the virus, which ultimately enables more Australians to be prepared for flu season.” 

He urged more people to get vaccinated against flu, pointing to less than favourable vaccination statistics from 2023. 

“In 2023, approximately 25% of the population aged five to 64 years were vaccinated against influenza,” said Professor Booy. 

“With coverage like that, there’s certainly a strong chance that many vulnerable Australians are not getting vaccinated against influenza.”  

Results from the 2023 Australian Attitudes to Influenza Index, commissioned by CSL Seqirus, indicated that healthcare professionals are highly respected providers of influenza information, with seven in 10 Australians trusting healthcare professionals to provide them with information about influenza.   

Importantly, among Australians who didn’t intend to get vaccinated against influenza in 2023, 15% said they would be encouraged to get an influenza vaccination if their GP or pharmacist recommended it.  

“With the data indicating an ongoing trend for Australians to get vaccinated for influenza, healthcare professionals are best placed to educate individuals about the vaccine choices available and what is best for them and their family,” said Professor Booy.   

Flucelvax Quad will also be available from March for Australians who do not qualify for influenza vaccination via the NIP.  The vaccine has a recommended retail price (RRP) of $34.95 for the private market, a CSL Seqirus spokesperson confirmed. 

The DoHAC spokesman told The Medical Republic that the federal government had “secured enough vaccines to cover all people eligible for a NIP funded influenza vaccine”. 

“Private market vaccines are also available,” he said. 

“The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will be releasing their annual influenza statement around late February, which will provide advice on vaccination timing.  

“The 2024 NIP influenza vaccines will be available for providers to order from late March 2024, subject to local supply arrangements. The timing of availability of NIP influenza vaccines may vary from privately purchased influenza vaccines.” 

The spokesman said seasonal influenza activity continued to evolve following the covid pandemic and the importance of influenza vaccination remained crucial. 

“Continued efforts to enhance vaccine uptake are imperative to ensure widespread protection against influenza,” he said. 

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×