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An extra 400,000 flu vaccines will be supplied to Australia in coming weeks to meet unprecedented demand as the nation gears up for one of the worst seasons on record.

More than 12 million flu vaccines have already been made available, including 7.5 million for the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and state and territory vaccinations programs, as well as 4.6 million doses for the private market.

The federal government says supplies for NIP and state and territory programs are stable but that it recently worked with vaccine companies to provide an extra 400,000 flu vaccinations to satisfy growing demand across the private market.

The flu vaccinations, which will take the annual number provided to 12.5 million, up from 11 million last year, will be made available through general practice and community pharmacies.

Experts forecast Australia is headed for one of its worst flu seasons.

According to statistics from the Immunisation Coalition, a not-for-profit advocacy group highlighting the importance of immunisation in protecting against infectious diseases, there has already been 58,974 cases of the flu recorded this year, three times more than the same period last year.

South Australia has experienced the most cases of flu (15,554), followed by New South Wales (14,942) and Victoria (11,163).

Vaccination, despite not providing a 100% guarantee of not being infected with the flu, is considered the most effective way to protect individuals and the broader community.

Experts estimate that flu in Australia causes more than 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 GP consultations each year.

Studies show influenza can survive an hour or more in the air in enclosed environments, more than eight hours on hard surfaces such as plastic, and up to 15 minutes if transferred from tissues to hands.

The National Immunisation Program (NIP) provides free flu shots for the elderly and high-risk groups including pregnant women, those with chronic diseases and Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over.

The Immunisation Coalition recommends anyone over the age of six months should receive an annual flu shot to protect themselves and help increase herd immunity within the community.

Australian studies estimate that the risk of flu is reduced by 40-50% in people who receive the vaccine.

For more information on immunisation visit the Department of Health’s website