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Support For Influenza Vaccination Amongst Elderly

Media Release
7th May, 2003

Widespread Support For Influenza Vaccination Amongst Older People

In the first New Zealand study of adults’ attitudes to vaccination, research by the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Otago University, shows that most people think the free influenza vaccine is a good idea. The study is investigating attitudes to influenza vaccination amongst New Zealanders 65 years and older.

Principal investigator Dr Rob Weir says the results are very encouraging. Across the four regions surveyed there is high recognition of the fact that influenza vaccination protects older people against influenza and its complications.

“We surveyed people aged 65 and over in four regions: Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch, and did not find a great deal of variation in responses. 1558 people replied and more than two thirds said they believe an annual influenza vaccination prevents them from getting influenza,” Dr Weir says. “Respondents were also aware of the risk of complications from influenza and a high proportion (78%) believe a free influenza vaccination prevents serious illness from influenza”.

The Ministry of Health is funding free influenza vaccinations for people most at risk of catching influenza; those aged 65 years and over, and adults and children with some chronic health conditions. The free vaccinations will be available from most GPs from Monday March 17 until the end of June.

Last year some 300,000 New Zealanders took advantage of the free vaccines protection against the influenza virus.

The key to the success of the free influenza vaccination programme since 1997 has been the vital role played by GPs and Practice Nurses. When GPs recommend the influenza vaccine, their patients usually have it. Most respondents said they preferred to get their vaccination at their medical centre.

However, a significant proportion of older people (24%) still do not take advantage of the free flu vaccination. This is not because they don’t think it worthwhile, but rather because of the belief they are healthy and not at risk from influenza or its possible complications.

“Of course this is not based on the evidence, “ says Canterbury DHB virologist Dr Lance Jennings who is also involved with the study. “The facts are that older people who are healthy are just as likely to go down with influenza as people who have a chronic condition, which makes them more vulnerable to this potentially fatal disease.”

Older people who do not have a free flu injection are also more likely to incorrectly believe they will get influenza or side effects from the vaccine. However, most agree that influenza is a serious disease, particularly for the elderly.

The Ministry of Health, which supports the influenza campaign, believes the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences study confirms that most older New Zealanders are convinced about the benefits of vaccination against influenza.


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