Underlying health conditions and the flu jab

Flu can make an existing condition such as asthma, emphysema, heart disease, or diabetes, a lot worse. People with a range of underlying health conditions are eligible for a free flu jab.

Last updated: 13 May 2022

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Why getting a flu jab is important if you have an underlying health condition 

As people in Aotearoa emerge from their bubbles, there’s a much bigger chance of catching the flu. Pandemic measures like mask wearing and hand hygiene mean we've had very little influenza circulating in New Zealand for the past two years, so community immunity is lower than usual. And, with international borders opening, we’ll see new strains of flu spreading in our communities.

People with some underlying health conditions are most at risk from the complications of flu.  

Flu can make an existing condition such as asthma, emphysema, heart disease, or diabetes, a lot worse. 

In some cases, flu can put people in hospital, and in severe cases, the flu can be fatal. Around 500 people die from the flu every year.  

Flu can: 

  • affect your blood pressure 
  • increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke 
  • cause inflammation in the lungs and airways which can trigger asthma attacks 
  • interfere with blood sugar levels 
  • compromise an already weak immune system 
  • cause pneumonia. 

It’s more important than ever to protect yourself from the flu by getting your yearly flu jab as soon as you can. 

Underlying health conditions free flu jab eligibility 

Free flu jabs are available for people aged 6 months and over with any of the following conditions:  

  • Cerebrovascular disease 
  • Chronic heart problems, excluding high cholesterol or high blood pressure, if they haven’t caused problems with other organs 
  • Chronic breathing or lung problems, including asthma where regular preventative medicine has been prescribed 
  • Diabetes 
  • Chronic kidney disease 
  • Cancer that’s not in remission, excluding skin cancers if not invasive 
  • Other conditions such as autoimmune disease, immune suppression, immune deficiency, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), transplant recipients, neuromuscular and central nervous system diseases, cochlear implant, error of metabolism at risk of major metabolic decompensation, pre- or post-splenectomy, Down syndrome, haemoglobinopathies and children on long term aspirin. 

Free flu jabs are also available to children aged between six months and 5 years who have a history of significant respiratory illness. Talk to your GP or healthcare provider. 

PHARMAC's full eligibility criteria for those with underlying health conditions

The flu vaccine is free for those who have:

  • chronic respiratory disease
    • includes asthma (if on a regular preventative therapy), chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, and emphysema.
  • diabetes
  • any cancer
    • excluding basal and squamous skin cancers if not invasive
  • an autoimmune disease
    • includes coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis. Immune suppression or immune deficiency includes disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS), or targeted biologic therapies
  • immune suppression or immune deficiency
  • HIV
  • Down syndrome
  • cardiovascular disease
    • includes ischaemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease, cerebrovascular disease
  • chronic renal disease
  • neuromuscular or CNS disease/disorder
  • haemoglobinopathy
    • include sickle cell anaemia, and thalassemia.
  • a cochlear implant
  • error of metabolism at risk of major metabolic decompensation
  • pre- or post-splenectomy

It's also free for:

If you're unsure if the flu vaccine is free for you, chat to your GP or healthcare provider.

Getting the flu jab 

You can get your free flu jab from your GP or healthcare provider. Many pharmacies also offer the free flu vaccine for people aged 13 and over.  

Although having the flu jab doesn’t guarantee you won’t catch the flu, it will give you more protection and reduce the severity of the symptoms if you do catch it. 

Pharmacies offering flu jabs

Getting a COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as the free flu jab 

You can have any COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as your free flu vaccine. There’s no need to leave a gap between these vaccines.  

Being up-to-date with all your vaccinations gives you the best possible protection. You will need to check the vaccination site is able to administer both before you arrive.

If you’ve recently had COVID-19 you can have a flu jab as soon as you’ve recovered.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine if you've had COVID-19

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