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Seasonal influenza vaccine has arrived

14 March 2006

Seasonal influenza vaccine has arrived

This year’s seasonal influenza vaccine has arrived in New Zealand on schedule allowing most clinics to begin immunisation this week, Health Minister Pete Hodgson announced today.

“I strongly urge people to get their seasonal influenza immunisation, particularly those who are most vulnerable and at high risk of complications," Pete Hodgson said. "For these people, influenza can be a serious and potentially fatal disease.

“Immunisation is our best protection. Being fit, active and healthy does not protect you against influenza – it's easily spread and anyone can catch it."

Influenza vaccination is free for high-risk New Zealanders - people aged 65 and over and those with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The subsidised immunisation programme is available until 30 June. 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.

The new vaccines are expected to give the best protection against the strains of influenza, designated by the World Health Organization, likely to be circulating in New Zealand in 2006.

Immunisation against seasonal influenza is recommended by the Ministry of Health as part of its preparation for pandemic influenza.

National Influenza Strategy Group spokesperson and virologist, Dr Lance Jennings said recently that although seasonal influenza immunisation will not protect people from pandemic flu, it was essential that people were aware of the seriousness of influenza in light of the potential for a pandemic virus to emerge.

“By increasing the immunisation rates we can protect more people from seasonal influenza and ensure that systems for the use and distribution of influenza vaccines are able to operate on a large scale in the event of a pandemic,” Dr Jennings said.

- The Government aims to have at least 75 percent of people aged 65 and over immunised against influenza. According to the latest HealthPAC figures for Primary Health Organisations only 61 percent of people aged 65 and over were vaccinated last year compared with 58 percent in 2004.

- PHARMAC, the Government’s drug-buying agency, has secured supplies from two vaccine manufacturers for 2006 – Vaxigrip® from Sanofi Pasteur through Merck, Sharp & Dohme NZ and Fluvax® from CSL Pharmaceuticals.

- About 130,000 doses have already been distributed to practices nationwide.

- PHARMAC Medical Director Dr Peter Moodie says all back orders have now been filled and all further orders will usually be delivered in 24 to 48 hours.

- “Last year we estimated a 10 percent increase in the number of subsidised influenza vaccine doses. There have been increases each year but we think that publicity last year helped make more people aware that there is a subsidised influenza vaccine programme.”

- Dr Moodie says there was an increased demand for influenza vaccine in the recent Northern Hemisphere winter season and the manufacturers of the subsidised vaccine for New Zealand this season have taken that into account when planning stocks.

ENDS

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