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Australia to distribute stronger flu vaccine for 2016 season

Officials decided to add another strain to the vaccine after seeing an increase of 25,000 cases of the virus this year.

By
Stephen Feller
Australian officials will offer a quadrivalent version of the flu vaccine in 2016 after seeing an increase in cases of flu with a strain this year's vaccine did not protect against. Photo by thodonal88/Shutterstock
Australian officials will offer a quadrivalent version of the flu vaccine in 2016 after seeing an increase in cases of flu with a strain this year's vaccine did not protect against. Photo by thodonal88/Shutterstock

CANBERRA, Australia, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- The Australian Department of Health announced it would add a fourth influenza strain to protections offered by the flu vaccine after a particularly rough 2015 season for the virus.

Australians earlier this year were innoculated with a version of the vaccine meant to protect against the California and Switzerland strains of influenza A and Phuket strain of influenza B. The 2016 vaccine will also protect against the Brisbane strain of influenza B after it contributed to another record-breaking flu season in the country.

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Roughly 90,000 cases of flu were reported in Australia during the 2015 flu season, about 25,000 more than the country's previous record in 2014, prompting the expansion of strains included in the vaccine.

"We've seen another high flu season this year which saw a number of influenza viruses circulating, including both the Brisbane and the Phuket influenza B strains," said Australian Minister of Health Sussan Ley in a press release.

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"Today's announcement to move to a quadrivalent vaccine means that the best possible protection will be available free to the people who most need it. It's also important to remember we may be seeing more cases because more people are taking their flu symptoms seriously and going to see their doctor."

Each year, the World Health Organization releases recommendations for flu vaccine distributed in countries in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, doing so separately because the Southern Hemisphere flu season is during summer and in the north it occurs during winter.

The 2015 recommendations for the Southern Hemisphere included the Brisbane strain for quadrivalent vaccines, but not for trivalent ones. In the 2016 recommendations, the Brisbane strain has been taken out of the trivalent vaccine in favor of Phuket, however the Australian season this year necessitates the country move to more widely offering the quadrivalent version.

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Ley said two versions of the vaccine will be made available before the start of next year's flu season, one for people over age 3 and one for children younger than 3.

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