Push for people to get flu shot

Aurora Health Centre nurse Stacey Ellis gives Dr Conal Boland-Bristow a flu vaccine at the South...
Aurora Health Centre nurse Stacey Ellis gives Dr Conal Boland-Bristow a flu vaccine at the South Dunedin clinic.PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
For the past two years thoughts of vaccinations have been all about protecting against Covid-19.

But as the days get darker and colder the Government is bringing influenza vaccination into the spotlight.

On April 1 it swung into action, making two million flu vaccines available and widening eligibility for people to get vaccinated for free.

Health Minister Andrew Little said New Zealand usually used about 1.4 million flu vaccines but with the Covid-19 Omicron wave still working its way through the country the most vulnerable needed to be protected from getting the flu as well.

The flu shot is already free for everyone over the age of 65, pregnant women and those at risk of becoming seriously ill because of other underlying conditions.

"This winter, on the advice of doctors, we are widening eligibility to include Māori and Pacific people aged 55 and over, which means an extra 39,000 people can have the vaccine for free," Mr Little said.

With the country closed to the rest of the world for the past two years the nation had been largely free of colds and flu, he said.

"That’s changing, though, with our borders opening, and I encourage everyone - and especially the most vulnerable - to get vaccinated."

"In an ordinary year, flu kills more than 500 New Zealanders. And this is no ordinary year," he said.

WellSouth director of nursing Wendy Findlay said the flu could be very nasty and the vaccine was excellent protection to keep people and their whānau safe.

It was especially important to get the flu vaccine this year because with the borders closed over the past two winters, there had been very little if any flu in New Zealand .

"That potentially means we may have a lower immunity to the virus.

"So this year, we can expect the flu in our communities as people travel from overseas, we are moving around the country more and there are few restrictions on gathering limits - so there is more opportunity for the virus to spread more easily."

The vaccine was funded for people over 65, Māori and Pasifika over 55, pregnant women, children aged 4 years old or under who had been admitted to hospital for respiratory illness or had a history of significant respiratory illness and people under 65 years old with some medical conditions.

The influenza vaccine was safe and it was important for keeping people healthy and well and protecting vulnerable whānau, Ms Findlay said.

"In rare cases, there can be side effects of the flu vaccine but there is far greater risks of serious illness and, in some cases death, associated with getting the flu."

It was safe to get the flu vaccine alongside other vaccines including Covid (Pfizer and AstraZeneca), MMR and routine childhood vaccines.

"Overseas, in the US, the UK and Europe, where they have had flu seasons along with Covid outbreaks, the evidence is that these vaccines can safely be provided at the same time."

The flu vaccine was available now through general practices and many other health providers, including Māori and Pacific health providers and community pharmacies, Ms Findlay said.












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