Healthcare workers at district health boards around the country are gearing up to fight influenza or ‘flu’ this winter – and some DHBs are reporting increased uptake in influenza vaccination by their staff so far.
The Ministry of Health strongly encourages healthcare workers to be vaccinated – to protect their patients, but also themselves, their families and friends. In 2013, an average of 58 percent of DHB healthcare workers was vaccinated.
Virus expert and National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG) spokesperson, Dr Lance Jennings says healthcare workers should be immunised as they are likely to come in contact with people who are vulnerable to complications from influenza such as the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and those with ongoing medical conditions.
“We’re seeing an increasing trend for healthcare workers to be immunised against influenza,” he says.
Canterbury DHB reports it has already vaccinated almost 6,000 staff or around 65 percent and its programme is continuing. In 2013, the DHB vaccinated 75 percent of its staff by the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Waikato DHB says it is making very good progress with its campaign, having already vaccinated 51 percent of its staff. The DHB is within sight of its previous year’s total of 53 percent of staff.
Auckland DHB is also on track to exceed its previous year’s total with staff vaccinations currently at 60 percent and Phase Two of its campaign about to begin. The DHB has seen a particularly good uptake this year among nursing and midwifery staff.
Dr Jennings says that while the hospitals are gearing up for winter it’s also important that at-risk groups in the community protect themselves as soon as possible so they don’t end up in hospital.
“Although the weather has been mild so far, winter is not far away and it can take up to 14 days from vaccination to build immunity. We strongly advise people to to talk to their doctor or nurse now to arrange a flu vaccination, which is free for many people.”
Influenza vaccinations are free for New Zealanders from a doctor or nurse until the end of July if you are in one of these groups:
- People aged 65 and over
- Anyone under 65 years of age (including children) with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers
- All pregnant women
- Children aged from six months and up to five years of age who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness.
“Children, especially, should be vaccinated as soon as possible as they may need two doses of vaccine spaced apart if they have not been vaccinated before.”
Dr Jennings says influenza viruses are circulating at a low level in New Zealand at the moment but that this year’s vaccine is well matched to the virus strains identified so far.
“Influenza immunisation is effective and is still your best protection against this serious disease.”
Additional information about Influenza and immunisation:
The 2014 seasonal influenza vaccines for New Zealand include two new World Health Organization recommended strains based upon the strains most likely to spread and cause illness in people this season. These are not new or novel viruses. The composition is:
- an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus;
- an A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus;
- a B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus.
Contrary to a widely-held myth, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus. Occasionally some people, when vaccinated, are incubating another viral illness coincidentally but their symptoms are not caused by the vaccine.
Influenza or ‘flu’ can be a serious illness – it’s more than a “bad cold. Anyone can catch it – even the fit and healthy.
Media contact: Brenda Saunders, NISG, Mob: 021 777 171.