Under the weather? You have company - we are already into into cold and flu season. But Bay of Plenty medical professionals report a healthy uptake of local residents getting the influenza vaccine.

Clinicians and practice managers told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend that 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. This year, practices such as Katikati Medical Centre report a steady rate of vaccinations.

Practice nurse co-ordinator Michelle Melligan said the clinic had given nearly 2500 vaccinations since mid-March, and would continue until the end of July. "We've seen no evidence of true influenza, but it's still early. As the weather changes, the flu might start to become more prominent."


A GP at Nga Kakano Foundation Family Health Services in Te Puke, Dr Joe Bourne, said he was seeing a small number of patients with coughs and colds, which can happen throughout the year. "There have been isolated cases of flu, perhaps related to the relatively mild weather we are experiencing ... this gives us the opportunity to increase the coverage rate with the flu vaccine."

He said the vaccine did not prevent coughs and colds, but it could offer protection against full-on flu.

Health officials say influenza affects up to one in five New Zealanders each year, and about 400 deaths here are related to influenza infection.

Dr Bourne said it took a few weeks after immunisation to develop full immunity, so the earlier people were vaccinated, the better.

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 has reported more employers providing influenza vaccines to employees.

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 for free vaccinations: those over 65; anyone with a chronic illness; and pregnant women.

Dr Shoemack said coverage for Bay of Plenty residents was similar to elsewhere.

"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." He said the proportion of pregnant women receiving influenza vaccine is 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 that last year, by the end of the flu season (September 11), 57,630 Bay residents had had the flu jab. That number was up fromlast year: 2014 saw 54,300 shots delivered, in 2013, it was 57,909 and, in 2012, it was 48,010.

Dr Shoemack said this year's seasonal influenza vaccine offered protection against the following strains: A/California, A/Hong Kong and B/Brisbane.

He said influenza was a potentially serious viral infection much worse than a cold. Symptoms include a cough, headache, fever or chills, aches and pains, fatigue and feeling miserable.

Operations manager at Rotorua's Te Ngae Medical Centre Henrietta Egger said her clinic got off to a good head start 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 since mid-March.

Mrs Egger said most patients were well informed.

"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 given their own kids the vaccine.

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