Influenza is one of New Zealand’s most infectious diseases affecting about 20 per cent of the population each year.
This year, however, due to a high demand in vaccination, some GPs and pharmacies around the country have experienced shortages.
In June, the Ministry of Health advised that distribution of the vaccine had reached near record levels with about 1.3 million doses being distributed.
This caused some providers to run out and the ministry to urge remaining stocks be used for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, people aged over 65, those with certain chronic illnesses and children under four with severe respiratory illness.
On July 6, the Ministry of Health announced that it had worked with Pharmac and an additional 55,000 doses of influenza vaccine FluQuadri had been sourced for delivery to New Zealand from July 8.
University of Otago, Wellington, professor of public health, Dr Michael Baker, said he would encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves as well as those more susceptible to influenza complications.
To ensure supply and demand meet up, people should get vaccinated as early in the season as possible so increased levels of stock are ordered in advance.
“Getting vaccinated early sends a message that there’s a demand there.”
Influenza is a serious illness but many people who are exposed to the virus have no symptoms, particularly if they’re vaccinated, he said.
“There’s a spectrum of illness. For thousand of New Zealanders it’s an extremely unpleasant illness, quite debilitating for a week.
“Thousands have to go to hospital and it kills about 500 people every year.”
The main reason influenza can have such serious consequences is because it can exacerbate other illness and cause complications which can be fatal.
“Every year an extra 1600 deaths occur in June, July, August and September, quite a few of those are caused by influenza.
“If everyone got vaccinated some of those deaths wouldn’t happen.”
Vulnerable people such as elderly aren’t necessarily more susceptible to catching the flu but when they do get it the illness is often more severe, Baker said.
It can cause issues for those with cardiovascular disease because it can affect the lining of arteries which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
It can also create inflammation of the lungs causing damage or pneumonia.
“If you’re already having trouble with respiratory disease it can cause major respiratory failure.”
Ministry of Health director of public health, Dr Caroline McElnay, said the ministry is continuing to ask GPs and pharmacists to closely manage stock levels and prioritise those at greatest risk.
“More than 1.33 million doses of influenza vaccine have been distributed this year and it’s encouraging that so many New Zealanders are protected.
“As well as vaccination, it’s also important to remember the other ways to help keep healthy during flu season.
“Washing hands, safe sneezing, and staying home if you’re unwell are other ways we can reduce the spread of winter illnesses including flu.”
The arrival of the new stocks will mean that while vulnerable people will remain a priority other New Zealanders will also be able to purchase the vaccine.
FluQuadri was approved for use in patients aged 3 years and older by Medsafe on July 3.
It has previously been used in New Zealand but this year had not completed the approval process until now.
This has enabled it to be imported into New Zealand in response to higher than expected demand.