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6% increase in influenza vaccines distributed

MEDIA STATEMENT


www.influenza.org.nz
July 5, 2006

Six percent increase in influenza vaccines distributed

A record number of New Zealanders have received influenza vaccinations this year.

The Government-subsidised influenza vaccine campaign ended on June 30. A total of 761,180 doses of the vaccine were distributed, a 6% increase on 2005.

“This is a great improvement on previous years and it means many more New Zealanders will avoid the misery of this serious disease and its complications,” advises virologist and National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG[1]) spokesman, Dr Lance Jennings.

Dr Jennings says that although the Government-subsidised scheme has ended for 2006. Individuals especially those at high-risk from influenza complications, should still be immunised. It is early enough in the influenza season to get the best protection from the vaccine against influenza, although now they will have to pay.

PHARMAC, the Government’s drug-buying agency which arranges the supply of influenza vaccines each year, is also delighted with the result of this year’s campaign.

Medical Director Dr Peter Moodie says the 2005 figure was already a record, and the size of the increase is also bigger than in previous years.

“Historically there has been a 2-3% increase year on year, but this year the increase is 6%,” he says.

“This reflects heightened public awareness about influenza. There is underlying growth in the number of people receiving the influenza vaccine and we see an increase in numbers each year, but the increase we have seen in 2006 is greater than in previous years.”

The number of doses distributed represents about 44,000 more people being immunised than in 2005.

The first cases of seasonal influenza for 2006 have already been identified in New Zealand, and the type of virus circulating at the moment (A/New York/55/2004 (H3N2) - like virus) is covered by the 2006 vaccine.

Dr Moodie says an analysis of the numbers of people who have received the subsidised vaccine will be conducted once the data is available.

He advises people, particularly those in high-risk groups, to get their influenza vaccination without delay as influenza activity is currently on the increase and it takes up to two weeks from vaccination for people to develop immunity.

Dr Jennings adds that those who have not had the influenza vaccine may benefit from antiviral medication if they do become ill with influenza.

“Antiviral medications are available on prescription for the treatment of seasonal influenza. Antiviral medications, when used within 48 hours of symptom onset, have been shown to reduce both the duration and severity of the illness, highlighting the place of antiviral therapy in influenza management,” he comments

“So, if you think you are getting influenza see your GP immediately, preferably within 24 hours,” he recommends.

ENDS


Background Information on Influenza:

Influenza is a potentially serious viral infection – much worse than a cold. Complications of the illness can last for weeks, often confines you to bed and can carry the risk of permanent damage or death.

The influenza vaccine available in New Zealand cannot give you influenza as the vaccine does not contain any live viruses.

The influenza virus changes each year so it’s important that people are immunised annually to gain protection from the strains most likely to circulate.

Even when you are immunised you should practise good hygiene to prevent the spread of the infection. You should cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and then wash your hands. You should always use disposable tissues and stay at home when sick.

For further information go to www.influenza.org.nz or www.moh.govt.nz or call 0800 IMMUNE 0800 466 863.

[1]National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)
NISG was formed in 2000 by the Ministry of Health to increase public awareness of influenza, its seriousness and the importance of immunisation to prevent the disease.

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