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Vaccines contain new strains for better protection against flu

Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu getting his flu shot before the 2014 season.

After a severe flu season in the northern hemisphere the Ministry of Health and PHARMAC have worked to develop a new influenza vaccine for New Zealand, which will be available in late April.

Sue Hayward

Sue Hayward

Waikato District Health Board (DHB) nursing and midwifery director Sue Hayward said influenza vaccination is about 73 percent effective in preventing infection with influenza A and B viruses in healthy adults under 65 years of age, when there is a good match between vaccine and circulating influenza strains.

Vaccines will also be available for all Waikato DHB’s staff. Last year nearly 54 per cent of staff received a flu vaccination.

“Protecting our staff in turn helps to protect our patients,” said Mrs Hayward.

The Ministry of Health strongly encourages healthcare workers to be vaccinated – to protect their patients, but also themselves, their families and friends.

“We like our staff to be immunised as they 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. Healthcare workers are more exposed to the flu than the general population, and are therefore at higher risk of becoming infected. This also means that vulnerable patients are at risk of becoming infected from non-immunised healthcare workers.”

Waikato DHB will again have an army of staff called ‘ward influenza vaccination champions’ out and about once the vaccine is available.

“I will be urging all our nurses and midwives to have the vaccination,” said Mrs Hayward.

This year’s influenza immunisation campaign will roll out  next month following the global delay in the vaccine, says chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health, Dr Don Mackie.

“This year’s Southern Hemisphere vaccines contain two new strains, to give better protection against the influenza strains that have been circulating around the world through the Northern Hemisphere winter. We hope the improved Southern Hemisphere vaccines will avoid the difficulties the US, United Kingdom and Europe have had with a poor match for the H3N2 component of the vaccine.

“The unavoidable outcome of the addition of the new strains is a delay in the vaccines’ manufacture by a few weeks. The Ministry of Health expects it will be arriving at general practices in early April.

“This is well in advance of the usual seasonal increase in influenza illness in June, but it means that general practices will be busier than usual in April and May.”

The Ministry’s target is 1.2 million doses over the course of the influenza season, which generally ends on 31 July.

“Influenza A H3N2 has been the dominant strain in the Northern Hemisphere in the last few months, and it’s likely it will come to New Zealand this winter. We know that this strain of influenza hits those aged over 65 the hardest. The health sector is already preparing to ensure that New Zealanders have the best protection available against influenza.”

Information about this year’s influenza vaccine is available at www.fightflu.co.nz andwww.influenza.org.nz

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