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Un-edited statements from the health sector and beyond

Complacency about Swine Flu may put people off vaccination

National Influenza Strategy Group Wednesday 19 January 2011, 01:35PM

Media release from National Influenza Strategy Group

The National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)1 is concerned that New Zealanders who have become complacent about swine flu might skip the seasonal influenza vaccination in 2011.

"We've already seen evidence from the Northern Hemisphere winter that some people there have treated swine flu as a mild illness which isn't worth the bother of immunisation," says NISG spokesperson and virologist Dr Lance Jennings.

But he says people would be making a mistake if they underestimate the seriousness of swine flu, which based on current international trends is expected to be the predominant influenza virus in New Zealand in 2011.

"Although swine flu is mild-to-moderate for most people, it can lead to serious complications and even death for others.  

"When you get vaccinated you don't just protect yourself - you are also significantly reducing the risk of becoming a carrier of the illness and potentially passing it on to your family, your co-workers and others - including children, the elderly and infirm friends or family members.

"Influenza vaccination also provides protection against several other strains of influenza which can cause serious illness or death, and which are expected to be the predominant strains in circulation that year.   In 2011 the strains covered by the vaccine are:
•    A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus;   (Swine Flu)
•    A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus;
•    B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.

"Most years the strains covered by the seasonal influenza vaccine change.  2011 is unusual in that the strains are the same as in 2010.  However people who were vaccinated last year should still be vaccinated again this year because the immunity offered by current vaccines lessens over time, so a further vaccination is likely to offer better protection for the 2011 season."

Between 10 and 20 percent of the population are infected with influenza each year.2 Up to 156,000 will consult a GP3.  Surveillance reports indicate that between 1989 and 2004 there were 5,226 hospitalisations and 414 deaths, making an average of 327 hospitalisations per year directly attributed to influenza. 3

Data up to September 2010 shows that 727 people were hospitalised last year with laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic influenza (the predominant virus strain).  15 of the 20 swine flu-related deaths reported to the end of September 2010 were confirmed as due to swine flu.

"Influenza is not just a "bad cold".  Although some of the symptoms may be similar, influenza is much more severe.  Influenza may lead to serious complications, particularly in people with an existing medical condition."

Influenza immunisation is free as soon as vaccine is available (usually mid-March) for New Zealanders at high risk of complications -- people aged 65 and over, and anyone under 65 years of age with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers.

In addition, for 2011 the Government will subsidise influenza immunisation for pregnant women. The subsidised season has also been extended for 2011 to July 31.

Pregnant women have been included as studies have shown they are particularly susceptible to more severe outcomes from swine flu.

In 2010 influenza vaccine uptake reached 1,046,000 doses (as at 30 September), an 8 percent increase over 2009.   

"Practices did a fantastic job in 2010 and their efforts minimised the threat posed by swine flu. However there is no room for complacency and we need to work hard in 2011 to protect ourselves and the community by maintaining a high level of uptake," Dr Lance Jennings said.

The NISG Influenza Kit is expected to arrive in surgeries in early February. Content has been completely reviewed to include relevant information.  

The "Don't Let the Flu Get You" TV campaign will run again in 2011.

Seasonal vaccine is expected to arrive in the country around mid-March. Surgeries are, however, urged to place orders now to ensure they have supplies available by the time the promotional campaign begins in March.

"You don't need to wait for the kit to place orders," explains NISG chair Michelle Kapinga.  "However surgeries do need to wait until vaccine is in their fridge before arranging clinics."

The funded seasonal influenza vaccines for 2010 are Fluvax (manufactured in Australia by CSL) and Fluarix (manufactured in Germany by GSK).

Due to the reactions experienced by some children in 2010 Fluvax will not be recommended for use in children under 9 years in 2011. As yet, there is no clear evidence as to why those reactions occurred, and clinical investigations are continuing.

Ms Kapinga says the 2010 seasonal influenza vaccines are manufactured using technology which has been in use for 60 years, and which has an excellent safety record4,5
Resources specifically targeting healthcare workers and occupational health workers will be provided to both public and private hospitals in February. The Ministry of Health is strongly encouraging healthcare workers to get vaccinated - to protect themselves, their patients and their friends and families.   

For further information go to www.influenza.org.nz or www.moh.govt.nz or call 0800 IMMUNE 0800 466 863.

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