Northlanders are taking the risk of catching the flu seriously this season and are getting vaccinated against new strains expected to come in from overseas.
After two years of closed borders, health authorities expect an influx of influenza cases in Northland and recommend immunisation – especially to prevent catching the flu and Covid in short succession.
"We expect to see some of the new strains of the flu virus that have emerged in the Northern Hemisphere winter, and there's no residual immunity to these new strains," Northland District Health Board's Medical Officer of Health Dr Bart Willems said.
"We expect the rates of influenza to be higher than in previous years because our baseline immunisation rates are low, and we haven't been exposed to many of the infections that normally circulate when our borders are open.
"This means our immune systems haven't had as much practice as usual. Young children, hapū māmā, those living with chronic conditions, and our elderly are most vulnerable."
The current feeling among providers is that the Northland community are aware of the risk of flu and are accessing vaccination.
Maunu Pharmacy director Shane Heswall said they had three times as many people coming in to get their flu jab as last year.
Otaika Pharmacy also said the vaccine had been popular.
Willems warned that there is a "very real possibility" of having flu and Covid-19 within a short space of time this winter.
"This can lead to severe illness and high mortality rates."
Both flu and Covid vaccines can be given simultaneously or in short succession - there is no gap needed.
The strains of the virus that cause the flu constantly change, so having had the virus before does not stop you from getting it again.
Each year, the vaccine formulation is reviewed and updated to keep up with changing flu viruses.
"We know some people may have vaccine fatigue after the last two years of Covid-19. However, there has been no anti-flu vaccine sentiment thus far," Willems added.
Fifty-two per cent of Northland DHB employees have had their flu shot so far this year.
"Covid-19 had a negative impact across the DHBs in 2021, with the overall influenza vaccination cover of 47 per cent across the sector.
"This was a drop of 30 per cent compared to 2020," Willems said.
"Since 2016, Northland DHB has been within the top three DHBs in flu vaccination cover for staff."
The symptoms of influenza can be the same or similar to the symptoms of Covid-19.
If you are sick, stay home and call a health provider or Healthline on 0800 611 116, Willems recommended.
"It is also essential to seek medical advice early if you are concerned, especially if there are any danger signs, even if you have been seen before."