Free flu vaccinations are in the pipeline for children under
the age of 5 after an alarming number of toddlers ended up in
hospital last winter.
The Ministry of Health has lodged a request with drug-buying
agency Pharmac to extend the eligibility of free influenza
Health officials say almost 400 children aged 4 and under
were admitted to hospital with influenza last year, and the
rate was particularly high for those not yet 1.
The flu season is likely to start in the next three months
and vaccination preparations are under way.
Free flu vaccines are currently only available to people aged
65 and over, pregnant women and people with health
Statistics New Zealand estimates there were 311,840 children
aged 4 and under last year.
It could cost the Government a further estimated $8.8
million, on top of the $18 million spent last year, to make
the plan happen.
One mother of constantly ill children, Kyla McCormack, hopes
it gets the go-ahead. "It would be great to have the choice,
especially for people who couldn't afford to pay for the
Her twin boys, Charlie and Nathaniel, aged 2, had low immune
systems and she could not afford to take any more days off to
look after them.
"My boys are sick all the time because they go to daycare and
pick everything up," McCormack, 37, said. Her four children,
including two healthy teenagers, had all been vaccinated
against meningococcal, tentanus and MMR.
The numbers of young children being admitted to hospital has
been revealed in Shivers, a five-year multimillion-dollar flu
study led by Environmental Science Research and National
Influenza Centre director Dr Sue Huang.
It shows infants aged younger than 1 had a higher influenza
hospitalisation rate than the elderly.
Parents can choose to vaccinate their children against
influenza now, but are required to pay $19.40 for each flu
vaccine, though prices vary among medical centres. Some
children require two shots.
Pharmac spokeswoman Jude Urlich said a subcommittee was
reviewing the request as part of a cost-benefit analysis.
The outcome of the review would not be available until the
end of the month, she said.
Dr Huang said healthy children should receive free
vaccinations because they were most at risk of spreading the
"The younger children being hospitalised has been quite high
for quite a few years," Dr Huang said.
"They have a high disease burden and we need to do something
It also impacted on productivity.
"Parents have to stay home to look after them and they lose
productivity because of that."
- By Chloe Johnson of the Herald on Sunday