Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke learned from an expert yesterday how important the influenza shot can be not only for good health, but also saving lives.

Ms Cooke spoke with pharmacist Rebecca Bragg and discovered that the potentially fatal disease is already taking a strong hold in Australia.

“It’s so important that as many people as possible receive their flu shots this year because if the majority of a community is protected, the disease can’t get a hold and therefore our most vulnerable are protected,” Ms Cooke said.

“The NSW Government is providing free vaccines to those most vulnerable, including pregnant women, those over 65 years old and anyone with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

“And of course now vaccinations can be given at your local pharmacy, so it’s easier than ever.”

Ms Bragg, pharmacist at Beddies Pharmacy in Cootamundra, said influenza figures for this year are higher than 2018.

“There have been more than 48,000 confirmed cases by the middle of May, which is three times as many as last year – there were only 58,000 for the whole year last year,” Ms Bragg said.

“We are trying to get as many people vaccinated now to try to dampen down the winter peak. The peak hasn’t hit yet, and predictions are that up to 4000 people could die this year.

“If we have enough people vaccinated, then we get ‘herd immunity’, which means the disease can’t spread and therefore people who can’t get vaccination or have a sub-optimal response to vaccination are protected.”

Hospital admission rates for influenza are highest in young children, with recent national figures showing about 100 per 100,000 in those aged six to 23 months.

The NSW Government has invested about $130 million in the 2018-19 Immunisation Program budget, including Commonwealth and state vaccines. Free flu vaccines for children aged from six months to under five years of age are available under the NSW Government’s $2.6 million program.