Now's the time to get your 'flu' vaccination

Tuesday 8 March 2011, 12:57PM
By Ministry of Health

Seasonal influenza (‘flu’) vaccine has arrived in New Zealand surgeries and Bonnie Leung (22) made sure she was one of the first to be vaccinated at the National Influenza Strategy Group’s (NISG) official launch in Auckland today.

The fifth-year medical student fell ill with Pandemic HINI Influenza 09 (swine flu) in July 2009. She spent a terrible two and half weeks in intensive care and almost died from this serious disease. There was no vaccine available to combat swine flu at the time.

Previously fit and healthy, Bonnie struggled for almost a year to fully recover from her illness and now she wants to protect not only herself but others from a similar experience.

“I hadn’t really thought about vaccination before because I was rarely sick. But now I realise anyone can catch influenza and it can be devastating.”

The 2011 seasonal influenza vaccine includes protection against three types of flu, including the Pandemic H1N1 Influenza 09 (swine flu), which is expected to be the predominant virus in New Zealand this season.

“Most years the strains covered by the seasonal influenza vaccine change. 2011 is unusual in that the strains are the same as in 2010. People who were vaccinated last year, however, should still be vaccinated again this year because the immunity offered by current vaccines lessens over time, so a further vaccination is likely to offer better protection for the 2011 season,” explains NISG spokesperson, Dr Nikki Turner.

Dr Turner says people need to be immunised as soon as possible before winter as it can take up to two weeks to develop immunity after vaccination.

“Although swine flu is mild-to-moderate for most people, it can lead to serious complications and even death for others.”

Influenza immunisation is free as soon as vaccine is available for New Zealanders at high risk of complications -- people aged 65 and over, and anyone under 65 years of age with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers.

In addition, from 2011 the Government will offer free influenza immunisation to pregnant women. Pregnant women have been included as studies have shown they are particularly susceptible to more severe outcomes from swine flu. The subsidised season has also been extended to July 31.

People who don’t qualify for a free flu vaccine can get it through their general practice for a small charge. Many employers also offer free immunisation to their employees.

For free health advice, call Healthline 0800 611 116. For advice about influenza immunisation visit or text FLU to 515

Additional information on influenza and vaccination

In 2011 the strains covered by the vaccine are:

  1. A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus; (Swine Flu)
  2. A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus;
  3. B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
  4. Ministry of Health data shows that from January to September 2010 in New Zealand, 727 people were hospitalised with laboratory-confirmed pandemic influenza. Sixteen people who died in 2010 had laboratory confirmation of the pandemic influenza strain out of 23 linked to the strain.
  5. Up to 156,000 will consult a GP2 about influenza-like illness and from 1989 to 2004, surveillance reports indicate there were 5,226 hospitalisations and 414 deaths, making an average of 327 hospitalisations per year directly attributed to influenza. 3
  6. In 2010 influenza vaccine uptake reached 1,046,000 doses (as at September 30), an 8 percent increase over 2009.
  7. The funded seasonal influenza vaccines for 2011 are Fluvax (manufactured in Australia by CSL) and Fluarix (manufactured in Germany by GSK).
  8. Due to the reactions experienced by some children in 2010 Fluvax will not be recommended for use in children under 9 years in 2011. As yet, there is no clear evidence as to why those reactions occurred, and clinical investigations are continuing.

1National 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.

2. Jennings L,Huang Q S, Baker M, et al. Influenza surveillance and immunisation in New Zealand, 1990-1999 New Zealand Public Health Report. 2001; 8:9-11.

3. Ministry of Health. Immunisation Handbook. 2006. Wellington