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Influenza in New Zealand

Influenza (flu) can be a serious illness and poses as a significant public health issue in New Zealand. Immunisation provides the best protection against flu, and demand for the vaccine in New Zealand is increasing.

Some people with flu become so ill they need hospital care, and a small number die. Getting immunised against influenza is the best way to protect yourself from getting and spreading this disease.

The 2021 influenza immunisation programme is an important priority for the Ministry of Health. There is an ongoing public health risk of influenza to New Zealand even with the current border restrictions. Any increased travel across the border, for example as a result of ‘safe travel zones’ will also increase the risk of influenza being imported into New Zealand.

Therefore, ongoing population protection using the annual seasonal influenza vaccine is paramount to protect population health, especially due to frequent changes in the influenza viruses circulating overseas and reductions in immunity to them over time.

For further information on this disease’s symptoms and treatments go to Influenza.

2021 Influenza Immunisation Programme

Every year the Ministry of Health supports the running of an Influenza Immunisation Programme.

The Programme is designed to protect those at greatest risk of serious illness from influenza: those over 65 or with chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and serious asthma; pregnant women, and young children with a history of serious respiratory illnesses.

For these groups of people, the vaccination is free of charge through primary care providers and community pharmacy. In addition, many New Zealanders fund the influenza vaccination for themselves, their families, and employers fund vaccination for their employees.

The goals of the 2021 Influenza Immunisation programme remain the same as in 2020:

  • Vaccinate 75% of the population aged 65 and over
  • Improve influenza immunisation coverage for people aged under 65s with certain medical conditions, and for pregnant women
  • Improve influenza immunisation uptake for health care workers: vaccinate at least 80% of DHB health care workers.

We are also extending the Māori Influenza Vaccination programme for 2021, as part of our commitment to improving equity for Māori.

Detailed information on the programme, including who is eligible for free vaccination can be found on the Fight Flu website.

Start date and prioritisation period

The 2021 Influenza Immunisation Programme will commence on 14 April 2021, with a two-week priority period for people eligible for a free influenza vaccination. These dates are dependent on approval by the regulator. 

We ask vaccinators to focus on immunising those who are eligible for a funded vaccination for the first two weeks of the programme to protect as many of those who are at greatest risk first, well ahead of the influenza season.

The first week of the prioritisation period is only for adults aged 65 and over and there is an additional vaccine this year that is specifically intended for this population.

The second week of the prioritisation period, from 21 April, extends to all those eligible for a funded vaccination.

Vaccination can then be extended to include the general population from 28 April 2020.

The influenza vaccination programme runs to 31 December 2021. All groups can be immunised through to December.

Immunising health and disability care workers

As in previous years it is important health care and other frontline workers get immunised against influenza.

Occupational health can immunise such workforces from 14 April 2021 if aged 65 and over, or 21 April 2021 if under 65 years of age. The Ministry’s target is that 80 percent of New Zealand’s health care workers are immunised against influenza each year.

Alternatively, health care and other frontline workers can get immunised from 28 April from their doctor or pharmacy (unless they are eligible for a funded vaccination, in which they can get immunised from 14 April if aged 65 and over or 21 April if eligible under another criteria).

Funding arrangements

We encourage health and disability care employers including DHBs to fund influenza immunisation programmes for their workforce.

The Ministry will also be providing funding to support influenza vaccination for health and disability sector employees, self-employed lead maternity carers and carers employed under individualised funding arrangements who:

  • are not eligible for a funded vaccination under the eligibility criteria stated in the Pharmaceutical Schedule
  • have patient/client contact
  • have not previously been the recipient of an employer-funded influenza vaccination whilst in their current place of employment (not including one reimbursed by the Ministry of Health in 2020).

The amount claimable will be limited to actual costs incurred for influenza vaccination, as supported by appropriate documentation, to a maximum of $35+GST per person.

Only claims submitted between 14 April and 30 June 2021 will be accepted for payment. Claims should be submitted to [email protected]. A template will be made available for download ahead of the programme start date.

Information for immunisation providers

Improving vaccine supply and distribution for 2021

The Ministry of Health is working with PHARMAC and its health sector partners to plan for increased demand for the vaccine and ensure immunisation providers have more reliable access to it.

The Ministry has established a sector working group to advise on the 2021 programme, with representatives from groups involved in key aspects of the immunisation programme.

The Ministry of Health commissioned a report into supply chain issues experienced in 2020. A copy of the report can be found at Influenza Vaccine Supply Chain Report

In response to this report a stakeholder workshop was held to identify actions to improve the influenza distribution and supply chain ahead of the 2021 programme. Improvements include working with PHARMAC and the supplier to increase supply and ensure a smoother distribution pathway, redevelopment of the promotional campaign and the establishment of a sector working group, which provides advice on operations and communications for the programme.

Recording the immunisation

Please continue to record the influenza immunisation in the National Immunisation Register, as you have in previous years.

Ordering vaccine

Healthcare Logistics (HCL) will distribute influenza vaccine doses to immunisation providers for the 2021 programme.

Please visit HCL’s website for more information about ordering or contact HCL at [email protected] 

Workforce Influenza Immunisation Coverage Rates by District Health Boards

More information

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