You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
West Coast medical practices have all but run out of flu vaccine, as they cope with unprecedented demand for protection from the annual lurgy, on top of fears over the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health has been urging eligible people to get their flu shot early, to reduce potential pressure on hospitals in the Covid-19 emergency.
Those eligible for free jabs include the over-65s, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. Children from six to 35 months become eligible for their shots from today.
But GP clinics and other providers spoken to by the Greymouth Star said they were either down to their last few doses or had run out.
Buller Health said it had only six doses left on Monday and they had been set aside for St John ambulance staff.
The Reefton Medical Centre had no vaccine left.
In Hokitika, the Westland Medical Centre was also waiting for the next shipment, director and West Coast DHB member Nigel Ogilvie said.
"We've had a much higher demand this year, and that is a good thing," Mr Ogilvie said.
The practice had administered 500 flu jabs so far this season, 436 of them in a single immunisation clinic.
"We don't expect the flu season to take hold as quickly this year because people are in isolation with the Covid-19 lockdown, so there is less opportunity than usual for it to spread."
The Ministry of Health says the flu season usually peaks in late winter and its annual vaccination programme normally starts on April 1.
But it brought the start date forward to March 18 this year in preparation for the potential impact of Covid-19.
DHB immunisation co-ordinator Betty Gilsenan confirmed there had been strong demand for the flu vaccine this autumn, and in many practices, eligible patients were still waiting for their free shots.
However, new supplies would be available very shortly, Mrs Gilsenan said.
The Ministry of Health says more flu vaccine will be available after Easter.
Nearly 900,000 flu vaccines had been sent to providers so far this year, but demand been extremely high and some practices had already run through their initial orders, it confirmed.
"It's great that so many New Zealanders are keen to protect themselves by getting the flu vaccine this year," an official said.
"But it's worth noting that influenza immunisation doesn't normally start until April, and the flu season doesn't normally start until late May."
There was still substantial stock in fridges around the country, the spokesman said.
The ministry was working with the health and disability sector to ensure influenza vaccines were distributed equitably across New Zealand, to enable those at greatest risk to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We ask for people's patience while our health system works through any backlogs. Further deliveries of influenza vaccine are arriving in New Zealand shortly and there will be more stock available in the first half of April," the ministry said.