Govt announces free flu shot for kids, second Covid booster expanded

Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall and Health Minister Andrew Little. Photos: RNZ
Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall and Health Minister Andrew Little. Photos: RNZ
Children will be able to get a free flu vaccine from Friday in a move to reduce hospital admissions, and more New Zealanders will now be eligible for a second Covid-19 booster dose.

Health Minister Andrew Little said the government was expanding access to the flu vaccine after noticing an increase in pre-schoolers hospitalised with the illness.

"We're making free flu shots available to another 800,000 New Zealanders, including children, more of whom are having to go to hospital," Little said.

"Free flu shots are already available for everyone over the age of 65 and those at risk of becoming seriously ill or who have underlying conditions.

"This season we ordered 40 per cent more vaccines. We've already seen more than one million New Zealanders get a flu shot, but with significant pressure on our health system we're ramping up efforts to get as many people vaccinated as possible."

The vaccine will be free for children aged 3 to 12 and to people with serious mental health or addiction needs.

From Tuesday, a second Covid-19 booster dose will also be available to anyone over 50, and health, aged-care and disability-care workers over the age of 30, with a six-month gap between doses.

Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said a second booster was available for everyone over the age of 50.

It was recommended for anyone over the age of 65, as well as Māori and Pacific peoples older than 50 and people who are severely immunocompromised, which was where roll-out efforts were focused.

"Making sure people in aged residential care have the vaccine made available to them - we've already kicked off on that - and then through all the Māori and Pacific and disability providers, making sure that access is good and strong.

"If we see any evidence that we should bring the age down we will of course ask the experts to advise us again on it," Verrall told Morning Report.

The availablity of the second booster has also been extended to health, aged-care and disability workers over the age of 30.

"My understanding is that's the cutoff beneath which side effects of the vaccine can be more frequent," Verrall said. "We know that we have a wide range of workers in the health workforce and that additional dose may be beneficial in those where we're not concerned about their being any additional side effects."

"For those not at risk of severe illness from Covid-19, a two-dose primary course and one booster continues to provide very good protection. So, for those who haven't had a first booster, please act now."

The second booster dose should be offered six months after the previous dose, and postponed for three months after a Covid-19 infection.

A second booster dose is not recommended for anyone who is pregnant and is healthy, including those with no underlying health conditions which could increase the risk of severe Covid-19.

"Staying up-to-date with the recommended Covid-19 vaccinations will continue to protect you from the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation or death," Dr Verrall said.

"The combination of Omicron and flu is making this winter more challenging than normal.

"The best thing New Zealanders can do to ensure they and their families don't end up in hospital is to be up-to-date with their flu and Covid-19 vaccinations and boosters."

Anyone who is eligible for a second booster can get one without a prescription from a range of places, including walk-in and drive-through vaccination centres, booking online using Book My Vaccine or by calling the Covid Vaccination Healthline on 0800 282926.

Widened access to the free flu vaccine to 3 to 12-year-olds was in response to more children being hospitalised with the illness, Verrall said.

"While we knew that flu could be different this year we didn't know how precisely it would be different. We have seen this increase in childhood hospitalisations so we've made the change now."

Flu shots are available by booking with GPs or local pharmacies.

On the suggestion that masks should be compulsory in schools, Verrall said schools had not stood out in the evidence as a place where there was more transmission, so masks would still be be encouraged rather than mandatory.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter