July 8, 2013
Canterbury leading the way in flu prevention
New Zealanders are getting behind the influenza immunisation campaign this year like never before and Canterbury is leading from the front.
Dr Lance Jennings, virologist and spokesperson for the National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG), says this has been a record-breaking season with around 1.24 million people vaccinated in New Zealand so far.
“But we mustn’t be complacent and think the job is done. The current vaccination rate, impressive as it is, may slow the spread of influenza but it won’t stop it,” Dr Jennings says.
“Roughly half of those vaccinated so far (640,000) were eligible for free vaccination –an impressive increase over last year’s uptake. However, many vulnerable people are still unprotected and this is a concern as we head into flu season.”
Dr Jennings says it makes good sense to get immunised before influenza starts to take hold in our community.
“Influenza cases traditionally begin to rise sharply at this time of year and it can take up to two weeks to develop protection after you have been vaccinated,” he says.
In the Canterbury health district:
· More than 30 percent of under 18s are already protected, including those all-important under fives
· 74 percent of people 65 or older have prepared for a healthier winter
· Canterbury vaccinators have ordered enough vaccine for 42 percent of the population and fully expect to use it all
· More people are taking influenza seriously and are getting immunised each year – and it’s not just those at greatest risk who are eligible for free vaccination.
Influenza vaccinations are free from your General Practice team until the end of July for people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and anyone with a long-term health condition such as heart disease, diabetes or respiratory illness. In Canterbury children aged from six months to 18 years of age are also free.
Dr Ramon Pink, Canterbury medical officer of health, says everyone should get themselves immunised against influenza.
“The school holidays are the perfect time to take your children to your general practice for their flu shot and get yours at the same time but make sure you call your GP team early to book – it’s a busy time of year for them,” Dr Pink says.
“If you don’t get your vaccination free, getting a flu shot will typically cost $30 to $50 at most general practices and it’s also available in some pharmacies. It could be the best investment you make this winter and save you a miserable week off work, followed by more time off as the family come down with it.”
Dr Pink says influenza shouldn’t be confused with common colds or other respiratory viruses often seen at this time of year. Influenza is a serious disease, especially for people with underlying medical conditions. It can make their condition much worse and lead to hospitalisation and even death.
“Contrary to a widely-held myth, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus. People who do become sick are more likely to have been incubating another winter respiratory illness such as a common cold, which then gets worse,” Dr Pink says.
“Many Canterbury people have really stepped up this winter – but if you’re not one of them, it’s not too late to get yourself, your family and your community flu strong. Kia kaha i te hōtoke nei, kia whawhai tonu mātou i te rewharewha nei – Be strong this winter, let's fight against influenza.”