More get jabs to prevent flu virus

By Dawn Picken

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JUST A JAB: Chris Pearson gets the flu jab from nurse Frances Conner at the Te Ngae Medical Centre. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
JUST A JAB: Chris Pearson gets the flu jab from nurse Frances Conner at the Te Ngae Medical Centre. PHOTO/BEN FRASER

Bay of Plenty medical professionals are reporting a healthy uptake of local residents getting the influenza vaccine.

Clinicians and practice managers told the Rotorua Daily Post this year's flu prevention efforts were shaping up better than last year's, thanks to an earlier shipment of influenza vaccine.

Ministry of Health officials said last year's vaccine was delayed by a month so two new strains of the flu virus could be added.

Rotorua Medical Group practice manager Alison Chapman said staff had not seen any influenza at its two clinics.

"Strep throats and gastro problems seem to be prevalent."

Ms Chapman said the practice's occupational health division had reported an increase in the number of employers providing influenza vaccines to employees.

"Stocks of the flu vaccine were available from mid-February with the peak period for administering the vaccine being from that date to the end of April."

Operations manager at Rotorua's Te Ngae Medical Centre, Henrietta Egger, said her clinic got off to a good headstart this year compared to last, when the vaccine arrived in March.

"I don't think we've seen a huge number of cases of influenza, but winter's only just starting now. We've had a good uptake [of vaccine]."

She said the practice promoted flu shots on its Facebook page, and had had extra nursing staff for twice-weekly vaccination clinics, starting in mid-March.

Mrs Egger said most patients are well-informed about the vaccine. "There are always those people who think, 'It makes me sick.' It doesn't; it's not a live vaccine. It's not going to give you the flu."

She said children were encouraged to get vaccinated as well, and most of the clinic's staff would have already had their own kids vaccinated.

"It's not just yourself. It's your children, it's school ... it affects the whole community because you pass it on."

Health officials report each year influenza will affect up to one in five New Zealanders, and about 400 deaths are related to the infection.

Dr Phil Shoemack, Bay of Plenty District Health Board (Toi Te Ora) on-call Medical Officer of Health, said the national target for vaccination was 75 per cent of all people eligible (those over 65 years; anyone with a chronic illness; and pregnant women) for a free influenza vaccination each year.

Dr Shoemack said coverage for Rotorua area residents was similar to what happened nationwide.

"In recent years we've reached the 75 per cent target for people aged 65 years and older, but haven't yet managed to consistently vaccinate more than 50 per cent of those with a chronic illness."

Dr Shoemack said the proportion of pregnant women who were receiving the influenza vaccine was not known.

The Ministry of Health aims to distribute 1.2 million vaccine doses nationwide.

The number of locals vaccinated has increased during the past four years.

A ministry spokesman said as of the end of last year's flu season (September 11, 2015), 57,630 Bay residents got the flu jab. That number was up from the previous three years.

Dr Shoemack said this year's seasonal influenza vaccine offers protection against the following strains:

--A/California

--A/Hong Kong

--B/Brisbane

He said influenza was a potentially serious viral infection much worse than a cold.

"Although some of the symptoms are the same, influenza is usually much more severe. Symptoms of influenza include a cough, headache, fever or chills, body aches and pains, fatigue and generally feeling really miserable."

He said influenza can be severe enough to require hospital treatment, particularly in the very young, elderly, and in people with health problems.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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