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Ministry of Health funds free influenza vaccine

Media Release 14 March 2001

Ministry of Health funds free influenza vaccine for over 65's and others at risk

The Ministry of Health is encouraging people aged 65 or over and those 'at risk ' of developing complications following influenza, to take advantage of free influenza vaccinations.

>From March until the end of June the Ministry will again fund the vaccine for those aged 65 or over, as well as adults and children under 65 years, with certain chronic medical conditions including: · Heart disease · Stroke and related diseases · Ongoing respiratory (chest) diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma that require regular preventative treatment · Diabetes · Ongoing kidney disease · Most cancers · Other conditions (or medications) affecting the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis, organ transplants, or HIV/AIDS.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Paul Bohmer is encouraging people with chronic illness and those aged 65 and over to take advantage of free influenza vaccination.

"People in these groups are more likely to suffer severe complications from influenza, such as pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalisation or death," he says.

Influenza is a serious illness causing high fever, muscle aches, headaches, a dry cough, and a sore throat and can last for a week. It is not like having a cold.

Overseas studies suggest influenza immunisation cuts hospitalisations by half and deaths by two thirds for people aged 65 years and over.

"Last year the impact of influenza in the Northern Hemisphere contributed to more people here protecting themselves. This year we want to remind people especially those in at risk groups that although the northern winter had been quieter this year the threat posed by influenza remains," Dr Bohmer says.

Last year around 28% of those in 'at risk' groups under 65 years of age were vaccinated, up from 19% in the previous year. Among those 65 years and older 59% took advantage of the free vaccinations last season.

"Vaccination is the best protection against influenza, even for people over 65 years of age who regard themselves as fit and active. As it takes 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to give full protection, it's best to be immunised before the influenza season starts," Dr Bohmer says.

"People often complain about having influenza when in fact they are suffering from a common cold. Influenza's symptoms are more severe than a cold's and are more likely to keep sufferers from going to work and generally carrying out their daily routines. In a nutshell it makes people feel miserable."

The influenza vaccine is changed yearly to provide protection against new emerging strains of the virus. This is also why people need to be vaccinated annually regardless if they have had it the year before. This year the free influenza vaccine will comprise the A/New Caledonia (H1N1), A/Panama (H3N2) and the B/Johannesburg strains.

People who are not eligible for the free vaccination can still talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated against influenza. Many businesses provide free vaccinations to their employees to limit the number of sick days taken.

Ends

For more information contact: Kallon Basham Ph: (04) 496 2385; Mob: 025 897 521 Internet Address: http://www.moh.govt.nz

Background - Facts about influenza and the influenza vaccine

· An average of 34 people die of influenza in New Zealand each year. · For every death recorded as being due to influenza, a further eight are attributable to influenza but are not diagnosed as such. It is estimated that 435 deaths occur annually directly or indirectly as a result of influenza. · Between 266 and 874 people are admitted to hospital every year with influenza. · Because the influenza viruses are continuously changing, people should be vaccinated against influenza every year. The vaccine is updated to protect against the latest strains of the virus. · It takes 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to provide full protection against influenza, so it is best for people to be vaccinated against influenza before the virus is widespread. · The vaccine is made from disrupted (killed) influenza viruses, meaning it can't cause influenza. · The vaccine does not provide protection against colds or other viruses. · The subsidised influenza vaccine is FluarixTM from GlaxoSmithKline. · The National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group (NIISG) was set up in 1999 to co-ordinate influenza vaccine promotion around the country. The group comprises the Ministry of Health, Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC), Royal NZ College of GPs, a Medical officer of health representative, the NZ College of Practice Nurses (affiliated to the NZNO), the currently funded vaccine supplier GlaxoSmithKline a virologist and Folio Communications. · Other members of NIISG and organisations that may be interested in commenting on influenza immunisation or the vaccine include:

Organisation Contact Phone Royal NZ College of GPs Ralph Wiles 07 886 5239 NZ College of Practice Nurses Debra Turner 06 758 2454 Immunisation Advisory Centre Nikki Turner 09 373 7599 Virologist Lance Jennings 03 364 0075 Local District Health Board Medical Officer of Health

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