For the first time, pregnant women and people aged 65 and older will have access to free flu vaccinations at selected Unichem & Life community pharmacies across New Zealand from April 1.
Green Cross Health, the group behind Unichem, Life Pharmacy and The Doctors medical centres, says the move will improve access to flu vaccines for New Zealand communities.
Doctor Lily Fraser of Turuki Health Care says pregnant women and people 65 years old and older have been targeted by the initiative because they are more likely to require hospitalisation or die from the flu.
Doctor Maia Melbourne Wilcox says, “I’ve worked in a maternity hospital and the people who are most at risk of dying in the flu season are young people, old people and pregnant ladies because when you’re hapū you immune system is quite low so you get really sick really fast.”
Green Cross Health Group Manager, Professional Services, Alison Van Wyk says, “We’re always supportive of improving convenient access to health care and advice for everyone in New Zealand and Pharmac’s latest announcement will enable us to work alongside our medical colleagues to better protect the most vulnerable people in our communities from the flu.”
Influenza, commonly called the flu, can be a serious illness to people of all ages. Over 1.2 million New Zealanders are vaccinated annually and in 2016, figures showed 67% of over 65 year olds and 18% of pregnant women received a flu vaccination.
“There remains a large proportion of New Zealanders who are not getting the flu vaccination and who could benefit from accessing it. Making the vaccination free in pharmacy to those most at risk due to age and pregnancy adds another layer of protection,” Van Wyk says.
Although some expectant mothers are wary about getting the flu vaccine, Doctor Wilcox Melbourne says the flu vaccine is beneficial for both mother and baby.
“I think it is good and normal for women to be really careful about what they put on/ in their bodies when they are hapū, for example eating good kai, not smoking or drinking or avoiding particular products, chemicals, but the flu vaccine is different. Pregnancy is a particularly important time to get a flu vaccination. Your risks are not increased when you’re pregnant in terms of getting a vaccination. The benefits are even more when you’re hapū because that way you get the antibodies to protect you in winter and you also pass those on to baby. So it protects baby which is really really important when there are brand new babies and they don’t have an immune system of their own. So that’s more important for babies born around the flu season.”