Flu-jab uptake may reflect warnings

The greater-than-usual early uptake of influenza vaccine this year probably reflects warnings New Zealand could be in for a bad season, a Dunedin GP practice manager says.

Mornington Health Centre practice manager Barbara Bridger said it administered about 200 vaccinations in just the first couple of days after the 2013 vaccine arrived last week. Demand had settled down since.

People seemed more aware, and some had asked their GP when the vaccine would arrive.

She acknowledged the increased interest was likely because of warnings over the summer that New Zealand faced a heavier-than-usual flu season, based on what had been experienced in the northern hemisphere.

Virologist Dr Lance Jennings, of Christchurch, said that, as ever, it was difficult to predict what would happen.

However, parts of the northern hemisphere had had a heavy flu season, and a variable flu season last year hit Canterbury severely, which was a warning for this year.

He acknowledged it was possible Canterbury was affected harder by flu because of stress caused by housing pressure created by the earthquakes.

However, that did not mean it was not a sign other centres could be hit as hard this year as Canterbury had been last year.

Although the same strains were expected this winter, they developed to counter the population's developing immunity. This was especially true of the H3N2 strain.

Flu was likely to start circulating in late May. It was best to have the vaccine now, he said.

The vaccine is funded for some groups, including people aged over 65.

Today, the national influenza immunisation campaign will be launched at Karori Medical Centre, in Wellington. Health Minister Tony Ryall will receive his vaccine at the launch.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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