Flu season heralds call for immunisation shots

A strain of the flu virus under a microscope.

An updated influenza vaccine is available from medical providers across the country with protection against four strains of the flu virus.

Immunisation Advisory Centre northern regional adviser Lisbeth Alley says the vaccine includes inoculation for both Swine Flu, which caused the 2009 pandemic, as well as the H3N2 virus strain, which resulted in a high number of deaths across Europe and North America in 2018.

The strains included in the annual vaccine are chosen by the World Health Organisation (WHO) based on information collected in 114 countries, including New Zealand.

“Two new strains have also been included in this year’s vaccination as a result of global monitoring.

This decision is based on how significant an impact the strain could have on patient’s health, rather than how common it is,” Lisbeth says.

“WHO is always scanning viruses and looking for the next global pandemic. These sorts of viruses are inevitable and have arisen throughout human history.”

“Being immunised does not guarantee you will not get the flu, but it does significantly limit the severity of symptoms, meaning you are less likely to need intensive care,” Lisbeth says.

“It is especially important for older people because the flu causes inflammation throughout the body, which can result in a heart attack or a stroke. The vaccine is very good at preventing those kinds of complications.”

The Immunisation Advisory Centre also recommends that strong and healthy people get the flu vaccine as a way of preventing transmission to those with a vulnerable immune system.

“The fitter you are, the better the vaccine works because you have a better immune response. If a certain size of the community is vaccinated you get a ‘herd immunity’ because it becomes much more difficult for the virus to transmit.”

The Immunisation Advisory Centre’s goal for this season is to distribute 1.2 million influenza vaccines, allowing more than a quarter of New Zealanders to be immunised.

Lisbeth says it is particularly important for pregnant women to get vaccinated because pregnancy changes the way the immune system responds to influenza, which can have fatal consequences.

“Currently, about half of pregnant women get immunised for influenza but we would like to see every one of them get their vaccine this year.”

The flu vaccine is free for pregnant women, people aged over 65 or under four, as well as anyone with a condition that could increase the risk of complications from influenza, such as diabetes or heart problems.

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