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National Immunisation Program

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (14:49): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Health and Wellbeing a question regarding the National Immunisation Program.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: I understand other states across Australia have extended the distribution of the National Immunisation Program for influenza vaccine for persons over 65 to community pharmacists. I further understand that SA Health is currently reviewing how the state government will distribute the 2021 influenza vaccine through the National Immunisation Program.

My question to the minister is: can the minister advise whether the 2021 influenza vaccines, under the National Immunisation Program, will be distributed and made available through community pharmacies?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:49): The immunisation program is key, obviously, to the ongoing health and wellbeing of South Australians, and it has never been more starkly shown than this year, as we are struggling against a pandemic for which we don't have a vaccine.

In terms of our established immunisation program, it has had a positive impact on influenza. I note that as at 26 September 2020, in this state we had 1,556 cases of influenza notified to CDCB compared with almost 25,000 at the same time last year. I appreciate this is a program that is supported right across the house, right across the parliament, and I am sure that the experience of this year will encourage us to redouble our efforts to maximise our immunisation program.

This state government has invested heavily in immunisation beyond the National Immunisation Program. We were the first state in Australia to offer meningococcal B vaccines for both children and young people and the first jurisdiction in the world to offer it to young people. We introduced free flu vaccines for under fives.

In relation to partnerships with immunisation providers, we certainly regard community pharmacy as a key partner in the distribution of vaccines and in that context, I think it was earlier this year but certainly within the term of this government, we expanded the young people who can get immunisations through pharmacists. Certainly, we will continue to look at opportunities to maximise the impact of the National Immunisation Program, including the suggestions the honourable member has made.

There is currently a review underway of the influenza immunisation program this year, which is, to be frank, an annual review, but I am particularly keen that we learn the lessons from the COVID experience to learn what we can to strengthen the influenza program for next year. I am not expecting that this pandemic will be over before we start to face the next wave of influenza. The fact that we are likely to continue to have international travel restrictions will significantly reduce the risk of an outbreak the size we have seen in recent years.

Also, if people continue to comply with the public health measures in relation to COVID, I expect that that will help in suppressing any other outbreak of influenza. I am not an epidemiologist, I am a politician, but I can assure you that my department is currently looking at what we can do to improve immunisation next year, and that will include the matters the honourable member referred to.

The PRESIDENT: Supplementary, the Hon. Mr Darley.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (14:53): Does the minister have an approximate idea as to when a decision will be made on that review?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:53): Just to clarify, it is a review to government, so then once the review is received we would have to consider the recommendations. If I can take the opportunity to unpack the honourable member's question slightly more, the challenges of the influenza vaccination program and other vaccination programs in 2020 will need to be considered in the context of the COVID vaccine. If indeed we have a COVID vaccine, it will be putting pressure on our distribution networks that we would otherwise be using for those other immunisation programs.

I would like to pay tribute to the federal government. The work they have done to secure COVID vaccine supplies is commendable. I am also grateful that the Hon. Greg Hunt, the federal minister, and his department have already engaged the states and territories to start planning for vaccine distribution. We are very appreciative of the leadership that they are providing in that regard, but it will not be without challenge, not only for the commonwealth but certainly for each state and territory government and our partners, such as community pharmacists. These are challenges that we will need to face together.

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