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Time Running Out For Free Influenza Vaccination

21 June 2002

New Zealanders have until the end of June to take advantage of the free influenza vaccination being offered by the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry is urging people aged 65 years and over as well as adults and children under 65 with certain chronic medical conditions to take immediate advantage of this year's free vaccination.

"Vaccination is still the best protection against influenza for all people aged 65 years and over even if they are fit and active. It takes 10-14 days for the vaccine to give full protection so it's best to be immunised now," said Dr Richard Medlicott, spokesman for the National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group.

Dr Medlicott said people with chronic medical conditions including heart disease, stroke and related diseases, ongoing respiratory (chest) diseases like bronchitis or asthma, diabetes, ongoing kidney disease, most cancers and other conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, organ transplants or HIV/AIDS, should be vaccinated now.

"For people with these conditions a bout of influenza can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia which in turn can lead to hospitalisation or death."

Between March and June this year vaccination providers get $11 incl GST, from the Government for each vaccination they give to patients in the risk groups.

Figures show that since March, when free vaccinations became available, general practitioners have made 186,357 claims to the Ministry of Health for providing a free vaccination to people aged over 65.

Ministry of Health 2001 influenza season figures (February to June) show general practitioners made 211, 515 claims to the Ministry of Health for providing a free vaccination to people over 65 years.

"With claims from GPs for vaccinations given over the past three months still being lodged, we expect this year's figure to rise. There is also another two weeks of the free vaccination period to go," Dr Medlicott said.

Final claims figures showing how many people took advantage of the free vaccine should be available in November.

The effects of influenza are showing up around the country with increased visits to doctors. In the week ending June 14 2002, Eastern Bay of Plenty recorded the highest number of doctor's consultations for influenza-like illness; 461.5 patients per 100,000 population, followed by Gisborne, 191.3 patients per 100,000 population.

The weekly consultation rate nationally for the week ending 14 June was 57.7 per 100, 000 population. This number of patients is indicative of normal seasonal influenza activity for this time of the year.

Dr Medlicott said people who are not eligible for the free vaccination can still talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated against influenza. Some businesses subsidise or provide free vaccinations to their employees to decrease winter illnesses.

"Influenza is easily spread from one person to another and those who are unprotected are at risk. The time to get vaccinated is now."

ENDS

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