Libs pledge free flu jabs for kids as horror year rolls on

Rhiannon Gillespie didn't bat an eyelid when she caught the flu last month.

How could she know a horrific turn of events would see her four-year-old daughter Savannah placed in intensive care days later with a horror strain of Type A influenza and a bacterial infection.

Ms Gillespie and her family call themselves "extremely lucky" to have Savannah home after she spent 19 days in Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital fighting for life, 15 of those in intensive care.

It took three hospital trips and two visits to a GP as Savannah's condition slowly deteriorated before doctors finally realised something was wrong.

"She didn't look really sick. I don't think they realised how serious it was," Ms Gillespie said.

After a horrific three weeks, Savannah is finally home. But other families have not been so fortunate.

In Victoria, an Upwey family is mourning after their eight-year-old daughter Rosie Andersen passed away suddenly last week.

In Queensland, seven-year-old Lockyer Valley boy Kynan Meara-Fletcher has permanently lost his hearing after contracting influenza A and meningitis.

Ms Gillespie said the family never thought of getting the flu vaccine until Savannah became ill and are now calling for it to be mandatory for children, calling it a simple precaution.

"I think it should be on the immunisation schedule. It is quite important, obviously," she said.

"If you do have that chance to try and prevent it, you should probably do it it."

The Coalition in Victoria has promised to fund free flu vaccines for children aged between six months and five years old if it wins the 2018 state election.

The voluntary scheme would cost an estimated $7 million over four years and see about 180,000 children vaccinated each year, the Opposition said.

Currently parents must spend about $11 on a flu vaccination for each child.

Making the flu shot free would send parents "a clear message that it is safe and responsible and important that children are vaccinated," the Liberals' health spokeswoman, Mary Wooldridge said.

"This is a vulnerable age and we think it's important to send a clear message, they should be free so that no one is inhibited from getting a vaccination," she said.

Flu vaccines are not covered by the national immunisation program.

Ms Wooldridge said Victorian taxpayers already covered the cost of free vaccinations for hooping cough and meningococcal disease and the Andrews government should stop blaming the federal government over the issue.

"There is nothing to stop Victoria taking the lead on this," Ms Wooldridge said said.

The policy announcement closely follows an editorial in The Age on Thursday calling for free flu vaccinations for children.

Dr Katie Allen, a gastroenterologist and researcher at the Royal Children's Hospital, and the Liberal candidate for the seat of Prahran, said she had seen the heavy toll of this year's bad flu season.

"The flu season is the worst that we've seen in many years and children are coming in in their droves," Dr Allen said.

"We've seen a great increase in admissions to the hospital and we are also seeing deaths in young children."

So far, the deaths have been attributed to H3N2, a fast-mutating strain of the flu that is defying medical experts' efforts to stop it.

At least 97 people in Victoria, including 95 in aged-care facilities, have died so far this year, Health Department figures show.

Cobram mother Sarah Hawthorn, 33, remains in an induced coma in a critical condition at The Alfred in Melbourne, unaware she has given birth to a healthy baby boy.

New dad 30-year-old Ben Ihlow died days shy of celebrating his first Father's Day. The Bacchus Marsh man died within a week of first feeling unwell.

In New South Wales, 19-year-old Nathan Brown has been on life support in intensive care at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital since August 29.

More than 160,000 people have contracted the flu in Australia so far this year, Health Department figures show, compared with 75,818 recorded cases for the same time last year.

This story Libs pledge free flu jabs for kids as horror year rolls on first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.