PERTH (Reuters) - Australia rolled out a nationwide vaccination drive for H1N1 influenza on Wednesday in a bid to arm itself against a possible outbreak of the disease.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said 5.5 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered across the country, enough to vaccinate about 30 percent of the population, and two million doses each month will be made available until January.
The campaign is Australia’s biggest mass vaccination and is estimated to cost over A$100 million ($87.95 million). Vaccinations will start with those most at risk in the pandemic, including health care workers, pregnant women and the chronically ill.
More than 4,600 Australians have been hospitalized and 172 people have died from H1N1 flu.
Australia has ordered 21 million does of the flu vaccine from pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd
Roxon urged Australians to vaccinate themselves and stressed that the vaccine was safe, although some people could have minor side effects, including mild nausea.
“While the new H1N1 virus causes a mild illness in most people, it can have a devastating hard edge. It is important that people take this disease seriously and protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated,” Roxon said.
While the country is coming to the end of its regular flu season, Australia’s chief medical officer has said that the virus was unpredictable, and could emerge throughout the summer with a possible second outbreak before the next flu season.
($1=1.137 Australian Dollar)
Reporting by Fayen Wong; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani