New Zealand has a nationwide shortage of flu vaccinations as it heads into winter and influenza season.
The shortage is a blow in the fight against the spread of Covid-19, with the country now in day seven of at least a four-week lockdown.
It comes a day after the director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, Dr Nikki Turner, said getting vaccinated against the flu, measles and other serious diseases was crucial.
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The Herald understands the distributor of the vaccine known as Afluria Quad, Healthcare Logistics, alerted GPs to the shortage yesterday.
That notification was passed on to some patients. A text message seen by the Herald read:
"Unfortunately due to supply issues nationwide we do not currently have any flu vaccines available.
"If you already have an appointment booked for a flu vaccine we will contact you when they are available again.
"If you are not yet booked in we will advise when we have stock available."
One Auckland GP, who did not want to be named, said Healthcare Logistics could only supply 60 Afluria Quad vaccines to each GP practice.
Those vaccines needed to last until the end of April.
That practice had much less than 60 left and it meant there would not be enough to vaccinate high risk groups such as the elderly and pregnant.
"A lot of people are abusing nurses because they can't get their flu vaccine."
Two weeks ago the Ministry of Health announced it was bringing flu vaccinations forward to March 18 for high risk groups and frontline health workers.
While the flu vaccine doesn't protect against Covid-19, it does reduce the burden on the healthcare system. Hospitals already struggle each winter with a surge in flu cases, and the addition of Covid-19 could overwhelm them if uncontrolled.
Turner said yesterday the flu vaccine was a "priority issue".
One couple in Auckland said their respective mothers had both tried to get the flu vaccine this week and were told they could not.
Colin Dietschin said his 80-year-old mother in south Taranaki was told the vaccine was not available until mid-April.
The earliest his partner's 87-year-old wheelchair-bound mother, who lives with them in Long Bay, could get the vaccine was mid-next week at the pharmacy because their GP wouldn't have any until April 24.
"I thought that they were available and if you rang up and were in that category you could go in and get it but it appears not," Dietschin said.
"It just surprises me that this information comes out from Dr [Ashley] Bloomfield [Director-General of Health] and the Prime Minister and when you go to do something about it, it's not there so there's a disconnect between what's actually happening and what they're telling people."
But the Ministry of Health said there was still substantial flu vaccine stock in fridges around the country.
A spokeswoman said the demand for flu vaccine had been extremely high and the ministry was aware that some practices had already run through their initial orders.
"We are working with the health and disability sector to ensure influenza vaccines are distributed equitably across New Zealand, to enable those at greatest risk to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We ask for people's patience while our health system works through any backlogs.
"Further deliveries of influenza vaccine are arriving in New Zealand shortly and there will be more stock available in the first half of April."
She said almost 900,000 vaccines had been sent to providers so far this year.
"It's great that so many New Zealanders are keen to protect themselves by getting the flu vaccine this year.
"It's worth noting that influenza immunisation doesn't normally start until April, and the flu season doesn't normally start until late May."