Four more states jump on free flu jab bus

3 minute read

NSW, Vic, WA & SA will fund the vaccine for people not already covered by the NIP.

Following Queensland’s surprise announcement last week, all states bar Tasmania will offer free flu jabs via GPs and pharmacies for the next month.

Neither of the territories has announced a free flu shot program yet.

The Medical Republic understands that “free” applies only to the cost of the shot, not the consultation – as this is outside the states’ remit – although flu shot consultations are commonly bulk billed with only the cost of the jab charged to the patient.

Tuesday update: This morning Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed free flu vaccines for his state through June, saying more than 3000 GP clinics and pharmacies across the state would be approached from tomorrow to join the program, which will cost the Victorian government $33 million.

On Monday last week, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that flu jabs would be free for everyone in the state through to June 30.

GPs were caught off guard by the announcement, especially given that many practices had only recently ordered and paid for private stock.

It took a few more days for the state to confirm that it would reimburse GPs $21.95 per dose for privately purchased flu vaccines.

“It’s making the vaccine rollout last year look seamless,” RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett told The Medical Republic last week.

AMA vice president Dr Chris Moy, a GP in Adelaide, had a slightly different take on the suddenness of the announcement.

“I think it just gives you an idea about how worried the health authorities are, having to face the first full flu season [in three years], with 3000 people in hospitals across the country with covid,” he said.

Over the weekend, NSW, WA and SA announced their own versions of the program.

NSW Health has confirmed that GP practices will be reimbursed for any stock they have already bought and end up using in the month of June.

WA and SA Health have not explicitly said if or how GPs will be reimbursed, but it is understood that both states are in talks with the peak medical organisations.

Dr Moy said there had been a robust consultation process between the AMA and the state government before the free flu jab announcement.

“When we had the consultation here, we just wanted to make it as simple as possible and basically [let GPs] be able to bill the states for the vaccines we gave out to the group that were outside the NIP,” he said.

“And also just to make sure that they warned everybody so the surgeries didn’t get hammered on day one.”

RACGP president Adjunct Professor Karen Price said the college supported making flu vaccines free for all Australians this winter.

“This will ensure everyone has access to the vaccine in a year where we are more vulnerable to the virus after two years of very low flu infection rates,” she told TMR.

“It’s vital too for any governments thinking of following the lead of Queensland, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia to consider that practices have already purchased flu vaccine stock and to have a workable reimbursement process in place for general practice.”

Pharmacists in NSW will be allowed to administer flu vaccines to children five years or older, reduced from 10 years or older.

In WA, state-run covid vaccination clinics will now also offer the flu jab on a walk-in basis.

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