Northlanders are better prepared for the flu season compared to last year with the number of influenza vaccinations up by 162 per cent.

By April last year, the Northland District Health Board had registered 9084 flu vaccinations; this year they are counting 23,832 already.

Dr Catherine Jackson, NDHB's medical officer of health, puts it down the public's increased awareness around infectious diseases.

"Northland DHB attributes this growth to the early start to the flu vaccination period, greater awareness of the vaccine due to the Covid-19 response, and proactive initiatives targeting our vulnerable population such as sending out a voucher to eligible people."

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Northlanders can get jabs from their GP, Hauora health clinics and eight Northland pharmacies – five of which are in Whangārei, one in Kerikeri and one in Kaitaia.

Pregnant women, people aged 65 years and older, people with specific medical conditions and children under 4 get the vaccine for free.

More information is available on the NDHB website northlanddhb.org.nz/home/influenza-vaccination/.

An immunisation drop-in centre in Kawakawa provides flu vaccines. Photo / Michael Cunningham
An immunisation drop-in centre in Kawakawa provides flu vaccines. Photo / Michael Cunningham

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Meanwhile, measles is no longer considered a threat in Northland as the district health board didn't register any new cases since the start of the year.

NDHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain had urged parents to keep unimmunised children at home last year and went on public record about his concerns about the anti-vaccination movement and the harm they were causing.

"Lockdowns always help to prevent the spread of any type of infectious diseases, for obvious reasons, including measles," Jackson explained.

"However, the main and most effective way to prevent measles is with a good uptake of MMR vaccine. In that respect, all childhood vaccines have been affected by the current pandemic due, primarily, to access restrictions."

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She said this would require a catch-up when the Covid-19 situation eases, and that the DHB would keep working with Māori health providers in this.

Jackson also wants to raise awareness around rheumatic fever, which can be common at this time of the year.

Covid-19 testing will not detect strep throat which, if untreated, can cause rheumatic fever.

Symptoms include fever, painful and tender joints, chest pain, shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat or fatigue, and can be treated with antibiotics.

Māori and Pacific people aged 4 to 19 are particularly susceptive to rheumatic fever.