Te Whatu Ora South Canterbury communications manager Karen Berry is immunocompromised and got her flu jab on Monday from Jackie Sutcliffe, of Roberts Pharmacy, in Timaru.
Patients with influenza have already been seen at Timaru Hospital, highlighting the need for people to get vaccinated ahead of winter, Te Whatu Ora South Canterbury’s infection prevention and control nurse says.
The flu vaccine roll out began on April 1 and more people are eligible for a funded-flu vaccine this year, as it is expected the health system will “continue to be under pressure” managing Covid-19 and flu hospitalisations this winter. New Omicron boosters are also being rolled out at the same time.
In South Canterbury, Angie Foster said it was important to get vaccinated, as it was hard to predict how bad the flu would be this year.
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Covid was still in the community and there was the possibility of coinfection, she said.
“It’s important to protect our high risk population,’’ Foster said.
Other viruses, including RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, were also circulating in the community, she said.
The region is one of the few health organisations in the country to offer the pertussis (whopping cough) vaccine in a “cocooning’’ programme for adults that will be providing care for a baby, such as partners and grandparents.
People should check if they are eligible with their general practice.
While it was hard to predict what winter would bring, Foster said because people were travelling more again, viruses would come into the country from overseas.
She said the flu vaccine offered six months of protection, meaning it would protect through the winter months.
While it did not protect people from catching influenza, it was the best way to stop flu from spreading.
Te Whatu Ora chief medical officer for South Canterbury Ben Pearson said every winter New Zealand saw an increase in coughs, colds and other respiratory illnesses such as asthma and flu.
This happened as the weather cooled off, letting infectious droplets spread more easily and people gathered closer together.
“So, we must be prepared for increase in demand for healthcare services and do everything we can to prevent illnesses over the winter months,’’ Pearson said.
He said flu could be a “very serious illness’’ for the very young, for older people and for anyone who had a condition that made it harder to cough and breathe easily.
“As people are mixing and gathering at normal pre-Covid-19 levels, there is a high risk that the 2023 flu season could be one of the worst experienced in many years.’’
People were also able to get their Covid vaccine at the same time, he said.
Flu vaccination is already free for people over 65, those with long-term conditions (like asthma and diabetes), pregnant people and those with specific mental health conditions or addiction issues.
This year, flu jabs will also be funded for children aged 6 months to 12 years and Māori and Pacific adults aged 55 to 64.
Flu symptoms can come on early and include fever, chills, muscle aches, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, and stomach upsets.
In more severe cases, flu can mean a stay in hospital, particularly if you’re in a vulnerable group; or can be fatal. About 500 people die from the flu annually, and hundreds more need hospital care.