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Indicators of flu low, but caution is urged

Nearly 9000 people in Wairarapa have received the flu vaccine this year, according to Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora [HNZ] data tracking the rollout of the 2024 flu vaccine campaign across the country.

“As we head into the winter season, influenza and other illnesses typically become more prevalent,” a HNZ spokesperson said.

“Getting vaccinated is much safer than getting the disease.”

The data comes as Pathology Awareness Australia [PAA] – a not-for-profit representing the pathology industry – issues a warning to Kiwis that “flu season has arrived early this year, and now is the time to get vaccinated and to be aware of symptoms”.

The respiratory illness dashboard maintained by ESR Science for Communities, a crown research institute that undertakes disease surveillance, shows that as of May 12, indicators of influenza-like illness [ILI] in the community remain low nationwide.

However, the central region [which includes Wairarapa] did register the highest weekly call rates to Healthline reporting ILI out of the four ESR monitoring areas, and the highest rate for the region since January, at 18.13 calls per 100,000 of the population.

The HNZ spokesperson said children are much more likely to get sick from an infectious disease than from a vaccine and acknowledged that “we desperately need to increase our higher rates of immunisation to help stop children and adults from getting really sick and having to go to hospital this winter”.

While they share similar symptoms, flu is not like the common cold and is caused by different viruses, and the effects of the disease are not just a concern for children and older people, HNZ advised.

“Even healthy people can get the flu and experience complications, which can include pneumonia, hospitalisation, and even death.”

Addressing the issue of vaccine hesitancy, the HNZ spokesperson said, “It’s completely normal to take extra care when making decisions about the health of our family and whānau”, but assured people that every vaccine available in New Zealand is assessed for safety and effectiveness.

“As a result, our vaccines have excellent safety records, and we monitor this closely.”

“It’s not possible to get the flu from the vaccine. Today’s vaccine contains an inactive virus and cannot give you the flu. Any side effects like achiness or a low-grade fever are temporary, normal, and a sign the vaccine is stimulating your immune system.”

The benefits of vaccination include reducing the likelihood of getting infected, protecting people from the more severe effects of the illness, and stopping people from passing the disease to others.

The available 2024 flu vaccines are “quadrivalent vaccines”.

This includes two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains. The World Health Organisation recently advised that the B/Yamagata lineage viruses are not actively circulating, and the risk of infection is considered to be low.

The vaccine is free for a number of people, including people aged over 65, people aged 6 months and over who have a long-term medical condition, and people with mental health conditions that include major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. For everyone else, it’s usually around $30-$40.

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