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Get flu vaccine while sun still shines

Get Your Flu Vaccine While the Sun Still Shines

Even though we feel like winter will never come, putting a reminder in your diary to make your seasonal influenza vaccination appointment is the recommendation from Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Felicity Dumble.

In just six weeks the seasonal influenza vaccination, which includes protection against three strains of influenza; pandemic H1N1 and the two most common seasonal strains for 2010, will become available.

Dr Dumble recommends people start making plans to receive the important immunisation as New Zealand prepares for a predicted 'second wave' of the H1N1 pandemic.

From experience in the Northern Hemisphere, it is believed the flu season may arrive earlier than usual this year, she said.

"As always, there are certain groups of people who are more vulnerable to influenza and get the most benefit from the vaccine.

"These are the people most at risk of severe illness and complications from seasonal influenza and include the very young, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

"The pandemic strain also carries increased risk for pregnant women, morbidly obese people and those aged under 65 years with chronic medical conditions," she said.

In addition to the trivalent (triple strain) seasonal vaccine, this year, the Ministry of Health is offering an 'early bird' monovalent (single strain) vaccine against Influenza A (H1N1) to people specifically at risk from the pandemic strain.

This includes children under five years who belong to specific general practices.

It is also being offered to frontline health care workers who are in contact with these vulnerable groups.

Unlike the seasonal vaccine, the 'early bird' vaccine must be given in two doses to all age groups, the first of which needs to be administered before 19 February.

"There is limited stock of the monovalent pandemic vaccine available, so only those prioritised by the Ministry of Health are eligible to receive it," said Dr Dumble.

Restricted supply also means not all GP practices will be able to offer the early bird vaccine.

"However, it's extremely important that as many people as possible get the seasonal influenza vaccine that contains protection against pandemic H1N1 and seasonal strains when it arrives in March."

The Ministry of Health plans to start the seasonal influenza campaign on 8 March.

People who are eligible for the free early bird monovalent pandemic vaccine:

* People under 65 years of age (including children) with certain conditions (as for seasonal influenza)
* Pregnant women (if they are infected by influenza, pregnant women are more likely to develop severe illness or complications compared with women who are not pregnant; the infection may also put the foetus and the newborn at risk)
* People who are morbidly obese
* All children aged from six months to their fifth birthday enrolled in designated general practices that have high proportions of people who are Maori, Pacific and/or from high deprivation areas
* In addition the vaccine is being offered to frontline healthcare workers - staff in general practice, emergency departments, intensive care units and those who may have direct contact with at-risk patients. The government is covering the cost of the vaccine for these workers but they or their employers will need to pay any other costs associated with immunisation
* NB: Individuals 65 years and older are not expected to be at higher risk from pandemic H1N1 influenza as they are likely to have some pre-existing immunity, and so are not included in this eligibility list

The 'certain' medical conditions (as mentioned above)

* Cardiovascular disease (ischaemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease and cerebrovascular disease)
* Chronic respiratory disease (asthma if on regular preventive therapy; other chronic respiratory disease with impaired lung function)
* Diabetes
* Chronic renal disease
* Any cancer, excluding basal and squamous skin cancers if not invasive
* Other conditions (autoimmune disease, immune suppression, HIV, transplant recipients, neuromuscular and central nervous system disease, haemaglobinopathies, children on long term aspirin)

For more information on the 'early bird' monovalent pandemic and seasonal influenza vaccines, or general information about influenza, visit www.moh.govt.nz/influenza or www.waikatodhb.govt.nz

People can also phone Waikato District Health Board's Public Health Unit (07) 838 2569 or Pinnacle (07) 839 2888 during office hours.

ENDS

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