Twenty-eight per cent of New Zealanders were immunised against the flu last year and, with winter just around the corner, health professionals hope even more will opt for the injection this year.

Last year almost 1.25 million doses of the flu vaccine were distributed, up on 1.2m in 2015.

In an attempt to get even more people vaccinated this year, qualified vaccination pharmacists were now able to administer the vaccine for free to people 65 and over and pregnant women.

The new initiative kicked off on April 1 but it was too early to say what the uptake had been like, National Influenza Immunisation Campaign communications adviser Brenda Saunders said.


For the first time, the Ministry of Health had also extended the period for free vaccines for pregnant women, those over 65 and those with certain medical conditions to the end of the year, she said.

"We want more pregnant women to be vaccinated and of course you can be pregnant any time in the year."

Despite that, the best option was still to get vaccinated now, before the start of winter, Saunders said.

The vaccine was now with most GPs and the immunisation campaign was officially launched in Wellington last week.

This year's vaccine covered a strain of H1N1 which was slightly different to previous years as well as H3N2 and the B strain.

National Influenza Centre director Dr Sue Huang said it was difficult to predict what this year's flu season would bring, however last year was very mild in terms of the number of people who contracted influenza.

National Influenza Centre director Dr Sue Huang said last year's flu season was very mild. Photo/File
National Influenza Centre director Dr Sue Huang said last year's flu season was very mild. Photo/File

She believed that may have been largely because the 2015 season had been particularly bad.

"Exposure in one year gives you good immunity the following year," she said.


In 2015, the predominant strain was H3N2 but two B strains also circulated, particularly among children. Last year the main strain was also H3N2.

"We have a bit more immunity there. That's probably the reason we didn't have that big an outbreak."

The predominant strain in America over the past winter had been H3N2 so that could be the case here as well, Huang said, although there was always the possibility the virus could mutate and make the vaccine ineffective.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner said vaccination was also beneficial to those around you.

Research released last year showed one in four New Zealanders were infected but about 80 per cent of them did not have any symptoms of the flu so were spreading it without realising.

"We are a community, let's start thinking like a community," she said.

It was also important for pregnant women because it not only protected them but also passed passive protection on to the new-born baby.