27 Apr 2020

Flu vaccinations double from last year - government

1:45 pm on 27 April 2020

The number of people vaccinated against the flu is double what it was this time last year.

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Flu vaccine. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter said 587,000 people had been given the vaccine, compared with 290,000 a year ago, and the country was on track to have one in three people immunised.

She said another 700,000 doses were ready to be used and Pharmac was seeking additional stock.

The influenza vaccine is considered an essential tool for fighting Covid-19, because although it does not protect against Covid-19 it does help against the flu.

This frees up the health system and means people will be less likely to experience severe symptoms because of having flu as well as the coronavirus.

The director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre says the record uptake shows people are more aware about staying healthy and staying out of hospital.

Dr Nikki Turner said she hoped the demand would continue, because the benefits to being vaccinated this year were three-fold.

"We are then less likely to mix up flu-like symptoms with Covid-19-like symptoms, we can keep our population as healthy as we can from influenza, so as then to reduce the hospitalisation burden and the burden on all our healthcare services," she said.

"It's a big enough issue for us trying to fight Covid. If we can reduce other really nasty infectious diseases then that's a huge bonus."

The government wants vulnerable people and essential workers to be next in line for vaccinations, warning supplies are not infinite.

It said young and healthy people were low-risk because of the existing precautions they were taking for Covid-19, such as working from home and social distancing.

Dr Turner said there were many high-risk people yet to get the vaccine.

"Elderly people, people with chronic medical conditions... those are the people we most need to offer it to, and pregnant woman. Secondly, frontline services - the businesses keeping New Zealand running at the moment - they're next in line.

"The other people I'd really like to see vaccinated is caregivers of people with significant medical problems. For the very elderly, for people with significant medical problems the vaccine doesn't always work very well, so it's important to vaccinate those around them - caregivers, people in rest homes, people who are in contact with high-risk people - so we stop spreading the flu to the highest risk members of the community."

After problems with distribution of the flu vaccine earlier this month, Dr Turner said only a "very small" number of places were still trying to access stock.

"Some people ordered high amounts expecting high demand and then we got a little bit of stockpiling in some areas. Then we did have distribution problems around the country some of which was exacerbated by the lockdown so it made distribution more difficult," she said.

"I understand there are still the occasional places that are having trouble accessing timely flu vaccines, however the majority of practices and pharmacies have currently secure flu vaccination amounts."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP

Today marks the end of vaccines being restricted to priority groups only, such as healthcare workers and the elderly.

Genter said the supplies were not infinite so it was important that essential workers be the next people in line.

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