18 Jul 2019

Extra flu jabs not enough for Canterbury - medical officer

11:27 am on 18 July 2019

Extra stocks of this year's flu vaccine are now available around the country for those who missed out the first time around.


Photo: 123RF

One week after the official start of the flu season this year, nearly 1.3 million people had already had the flu jab.

But the high uptake meant remaining stocks had to be prioritised for at-risk groups only from June, as more stock was not expected to be available.

Drug-buyer Pharmac later found an extra 55,000 doses in Australia, and they arrived this week.

It's being delivered to GPs and pharmacies now, but Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said he did not know the exact number of doses Canterbury would receive.

However, it generally received vaccine in proportion to the size of the population in which case it would get around 10 percent of the extra stock.

He said that would only be enough for those at high risk from flu, not others who've not yet had the jab.

"Obviously the reason for that is that if those people get influenza the consequences are more serious. So it's still going to be difficult for people who are healthy adults in other words, to find flu vaccine if they haven't already managed to get some," Dr Humphrey said.

Priority groups, who get the jab for free, include the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and pregnant women.

The flu season is well under way throughout the country, although at a level that's still relatively low.

But Canterbury's been hit especially hard with 611 flu-related hospitalisations already this winter, which Dr Humphrey puts down to the early onset of flu in the district.

"The most recent data suggests that may just have peaked, but of course there are a lot of other respiratory viruses going around at the same time so our hospitals have struggled with the high numbers. They're managing but it's not easy for them."

GP Phil Schroeder of the Canterbury Primary Response Group, said the extra doses of vaccine for the district was nowhere near enough.

"Really a drop in the bucket in terms of how many actually get to each practice."

He estimated it could amount to 30 doses for every practice.

"That will be enough just for most practices to keep some stores for the most vulnerable individuals and in particular our pregnant women because we keep vaccinating right through December anybody that falls pregnant over that time. And again they're a very vulnerable group in terms of what influenza can do and where it can take them," Dr Schroeder said.

Alistair Humphrey said high uptake of the vaccine was good, but Pharmac must secure more stock in future.

"Unfortunately it appears as if Pharmac ... is not able to have the kind of surge capacity that's necessary to address that kind of demand. So this year there are people who will have wanted the vaccine who've not got it."

The head of the Auckland University Immunisation Advisory Centre, Nikki Turner, also doesn't want to see the vaccine having to be rationed again anytime soon.

"Obviously you run the risk sometimes that you over order and waste flu vaccine. I think that's a better position to be in than running out of flu vaccine and putting people at risk," Dr Turner said.

The Health Ministry said the extra stock meant there should be enough doses of the vaccine for those at high risk and others.

Pharmac wasn't available to be interviewed but said 21,150 of the 55,000 extra vaccines had been distributed nation-wide. It added the extra stock took the total available this flu season to 1.38 million.