The Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand, along with members of the Aotearoa New Zealand Equally Well collaborative, are urgently requesting that Pharmac reconsiders its decision to exclude people living with mental health and addiction issues from the eligibility criteria for funded influenza vaccines.
The underpinning principle of funded influenza vaccines are that they are free for people who are most likely to get very sick or be hospitalised if they catch influenza.
Yet despite the evidence of the much higher rates of physical illnesses and poorer physical health outcomes of people with mental health and addiction issues, this group continue to be excluded.
Over the last few years, the Ministry of Health have made evidence-informed changes to policy to prioritise the physical health of people living with mental health and addiction issues. This includes the Diabetes Strategy, the Cardiovascular Risk Assessment guidance, and most recently the Cancer Action Plan.
“This exclusion by Pharmac is contrary to the prevailing evidence, it is unkind and discriminatory. At a time when this group of the population need our support most,” says President of the Pharmaceutical Society, Ian McMichael.
Whilst approximately 50% of the adults in contact with specialist mental health and addiction services will already be eligible for the funded influenza vaccine because they are over 65, or because they have a diagnosed co-occurring physical health condition, the other 50% will not be, and of these many are living with undiagnosed physical illnesses due to lack of screening, diagnostic overshadowing, and barriers to accessing general practice services.
“This lack of a physical health diagnosis when one is present, is likely to be worse for Māori and Pasifika people living with mental health and addiction issues. This is why we need a diagnosis of a mental health or addiction issue to be within the criteria of chronic health conditions for funded influenza vaccines,” says McMichael.
This equitable access is needed now for these vulnerable people in the community as part of the Government’s efforts to immunise at risk populations against influenza in the current COVID-19 environment.