The first shipment of this year’s funded influenza vaccine has arrived and is being distributed to general practices this week, says Dr Don Mackie, Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health.
“We aim to immunise more than 1.2 million New Zealanders against influenza over the course of the influenza season. More than half a million vaccines are now in the country - with the first batch of 208,000 doses now being distributed to GP practices. A second batch of 340,000 vaccines will begin to be distributed after Easter."
"The first shipment means that vaccination can start but the Ministry of Health has asked practices to first prioritise those with serious health conditions and pregnant women, followed by healthy people aged 65 and over."
There has been a global delay in vaccine production, in order to incorporate two new strains to give better protection against the strains of influenza predicted to be circulating this year. The influenza immunisation programme is beginning a few weeks later than usual as a result. General practices will be busy this year during April and May immunising their patients before the expected seasonal increase in influenza illness in June.
Some private vaccination providers have also been able to source comparable vaccines – these typically are delivered through workplaces where employers choose to provide vaccinations for their staff.
“This is a useful addition and will help handle some of the demand, while of course, every person immunised helps reduce influenza’s strain on our hospitals when the season peaks, ” Dr Mackie said.
Community pharmacist vaccinators will also play an important role again this year in making the vaccine more accessible to more people aged between 18 and 65.
Influenza A(H3N2) has been the dominant strain in the Northern Hemisphere in the last few months, and it’s likely it will come to New Zealand this winter. We know that this strain of influenza can hit those aged over 65 particularly hard.
Influenza vaccination is about 70 percent effective in preventing infection with influenza A and B viruses in healthy adults under 65 years of age, when there is a good match between vaccine and circulating influenza strains.
Vaccination is free for a number of groups, including those who are pregnant, those with a range of serious existing illnesses or conditions, or those aged 65 and over.
Information about this year’s influenza vaccine is available at www.fightflu.co.nz