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Free vaccine extended to swine flu at risk groups

Hon Tony Ryall
Minister of Health

3 November 2009
Media Statement

Free vaccine extended to swine flu at risk groups

Next winter's seasonal influenza vaccine will contain the pandemic (swine flu) strain and be free to extra groups who are at particular risk from swine flu.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says free vaccines will be available from next March to people over 65, but also to pregnant women, people who are morbidly obese and children aged six months to four years who are enrolled in particular high deprivation General Practices.

Seasonal flu immunisation is already free (paid for by the Government) for all people over 65 and to those aged 6 months to 64 years with certain pre-existing health conditions.

Those conditions include people with chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, who were particularly susceptible to more severe outcomes from swine flu.

The annual flu immunisation programme usually runs from March to June. Vaccination is by choice.

People who want the vaccine will be able to get it by going to their General Practice or health provider, although some will have to pay for it. Some employers pay for flu immunisations for their staff.

The World Health Organisation has recommended next year's seasonal flu vaccine includes the three main flu strains currently circulating.

"It is most likely we will have an upsurge in swine flu cases next Autumn." says Mr Ryall. "The northern hemisphere is currently experiencing extraordinary levels of influenza, ahead of its normal influenza season, so it is possible that another wave will occur in New Zealand before next winter."

Mr Ryall says if the pandemic becomes more severe before the seasonal flu vaccine becomes available, the Government has a contingency plan to immunise front-line workers who would be most at risk or who provide critical emergency services. Emergency pandemic immunisation would only be offered once the vaccine has been approved for use in New Zealand.

The extension in subsidised vaccination will cost around $2 million on top of the usual cost of $14 million per year.



In 2010, the Government will subsidise flu immunisations for:

• People aged 65 years or over

• People aged 6 months to 64 years with the following conditions:

o Cardiovascular disease - ischaemic heart disease, congestive heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease, cerebrovascular disease.
o Chronic respiratory disease - asthma (if on regular preventive therapy), and other chronic respiratory disease with impaired lung function.
o Diabetes.
o Chronic renal disease.
o Cancer (patient currently has cancer), excluding basal and squamous skin cancer if not invasive.
o Other conditions - autoimmune disease, immune suppression, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), transplant recipients, neuromuscular and central nervous system diseases, haemoglobinopathies and children on long term aspirin.
o Pregnant women
o People with morbid obesity
o Children 6 months to 4 years old who are enrolled in Access Primary Health Practices

Influenza vaccines have been used widely for many years now and their safety is well-known. Like any medicine side effects do occur. Most are minor and temporary such as pain at the injection site, general discomfort, headache, or a raised temperature In rare cases they can cause more serious adverse reactions (approximately 1 to 10 per million doses administered).

Influenza vaccines typically provide protection from the types of influenza they target for at least six months to around 70% of people who receive them.


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