Waikato DHB wants to boost immunisation rates ahead of what is predicted to be a tough winter. The DHB is now expanding what is offered at its COVID-19 community vaccination sites to include free influenza and MMR immunisations to those eligible.
GPs and pharmacies are also providing vaccination services for MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella), influenza and whooping cough.
Influenza immunisations are now free to those aged 65 and over, Māori and Pacific people aged 55 and over, adults with health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, children aged 4 years or under who have a history of significant respiratory illness, and pregnant women. Those who do not qualify for the funded vaccine are encouraged to buy one through their chosen provider.
“Our borders being closed for two years protected us from influenza, but now they’ve re-opened we will be exposed to new flu variants along with other viruses such as measles,” says Dr Felicity Dumble, WDHB Medical Officer of Health.
“We need vaccination rates of 95% to reach ‘community immunity’ sometimes known as ‘herd immunity’ to help prevent outbreaks of diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella.”
“Disease outbreaks can have serious consequences for families and communities. Those who are not immunised, whether that’s by choice or other circumstances, are worst affected by these outbreaks.”
With the reduced prevalence of flu and measles and a focus on COVID-19, immunisation rates have dropped since 2020. National and local campaigns are underway to encourage people to get protected.
Ministry of Health data shows a pronounced drop in childhood immunisation coverage from 2020, disproportionately among lower socio-economic groups and Māori, and particularly for MMR vaccinations at 12-months and 15-months.
There is also an ongoing campaign to get teenagers and young adults fully immunised against measles as some have missed one or both recommended doses of MMR vaccine.
The 2019 measles outbreak infected more than 2,000 people, and 700 had to go to hospital, with Māori and Pacific communities the most affected.
People who aren’t sure whether they are up-to-date with all their scheduled immunisations can check with their GP or in their Well Child Tamariki Ora My Health Book, says Dr Dumble.
It’s safe to have MMR vaccinations even if you can’t find out whether you’re up to date. MMR vaccines have been used in New Zealand since 1990, and are free to anyone born after 1969 who is eligible to receive publicly funded health and disability services here.
COVID-19 is also expected to be an ongoing concern and overseas experience indicates a second peak is common. The DHB is encouraging all eligible people to get their COVID-19 booster to help protect against the Omicron variant.
Teenagers aged 16 or 17 can now get a COVID-19 booster, 6 months after completing their primary course, from any of the multi-vaccination sites. Those who contracted COVID-19 during the latest outbreak will begin to become eligible for their boosters also, following a three month stand-down to recover from the virus.
Whooping cough (pertussis) is also a concern with the last outbreak in 2017 seeing as many as 600 cases a month.
“Whooping cough is highly contagious, and most severe in babies so keeping to the immunisation schedule of six weeks, three months and five months of age is crucial in controlling outbreaks.”
“With the opening up of our borders and the expected return of whooping cough, we are encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated against it as new-born babies getting the anti-bodies from their mums is really, really important in giving early protection against this severe, potentially deadly disease,” says Dr Dumble. Pregnant women are also able to get free influenza vaccine during pregnancy to protect them and their unborn babies.
“Getting immunised is about being a kaitiaki for your whānau,” says Dr Dumble. “When you get vaccinated you look after your own health and help prevent the spread of disease. These diseases can be really serious for our young pēpi and tamariki, so it’s vitally important we get vaccinated to keep them and future generations safe.”
For information on Booster vaccinations visit: https://covid19.govt.nz/covid-19-vaccines/how-to-get-a-covid-19-vaccination/getting-your-booster-dose/
For information on Influenza vaccinations visit: www.fightflu.co.nz