Taranaki healthcare providers urge COVID-19 and influenza immunisation as respiratory illnesses rise

18 July 2022

As rising cases of COVID-19 and influenza (flu) put increasing pressure on Taranaki’s health services, Te Whatu Ora Taranaki and its community providers are strongly urging the community to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu.

Gill Campbell, Te Whatu Ora Taranaki interim district director says, “We are seeing cases and hospital admissions increase week on week. The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) surveillance testing of people admitted to hospital with severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) over the last three weeks shows around 20% are due to COVID-19 and more than 50% are due to flu.

“The majority of patients being admitted to hospital with the flu are very sick with Influenza A H3, including three people needing ICU care,” says Campbell. “This is one of four strains included in the 2022 flu vaccine which reiterates the all-important message that getting the flu jab is quite literally the best protection we have against contracting this serious illness.”

“There are also increasing reports of people not testing for COVID-19, reporting RAT tests late, or not reporting them at all. This is resulting in many people not getting the medical and social supports they need, when they need it. Instead they are getting so sick they are needing avoidable medical intervention putting pressure on our stretched health services.”

Severe illness requiring hospital admission is avoidable for most people via vaccination. Primary care data shows that around 70% of those aged 65 years and older have received a flu vaccine this year. However, this means there is a significant portion of the community – nearly 30% - who are at higher risk that remain partially vaccinated, or not vaccinated at all.

Dr Catherine Jackson, Te Whatu Ora Taranaki medical officer of health says, “In Taranaki, the risk of a COVID-19 admission for Māori and Pacific adults over 45 years is at least double the risk of that for people of other ethnicities.”

“The more layers of protection we put in place – particularly vaccinations, but also mask wearing, washing your hands, social distancing and staying home from work and school if you’re māuiui/sick – the more we can reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses,” says Jackson.

“If people have had COVID-19 and at least three months have passed since their infection, they can now get their next free vaccination. With cases continuing to increase in New Zealand, we’re heading towards a second Omicron wave, so being fully vaccinated and boosted is especially important.”

Second boosters are now available to high-risk groups, with additional vaccine brands available of Novavax and AstraZeneca - the latter via prescription. Free flu vaccination has also been extended to children aged 3-12 years and people with severe mental health or addiction needs.

Immunising children aged 3-12 years against the flu not only reduces their risk of getting it, but also reduces the risk of them passing it on to their whānau, which is so important when it comes to infants, older whānau, and whānau with pre-existing illnesses safe from serious illness.

Sam Smith, Pinnacle GP leader says, “In the last month we have seen schools experience huge absences due to COVID-19 and flu and this of course has had a flow-on effect on our practices.

“All of this illness is additional to their usual workload, and with the flu due to peak in the coming weeks, the pressure on general practices is really mounting.

“We’re working closely with Te Whatu Ora Taranaki to help limit the spread of respiratory illnesses like flu and COVID-19 and ease the load on the healthcare community. We absolutely support the calls for vaccination and encourage people to continue to wear a face mask, even if you’re fully vaccinated as it’s an effective tool in keeping you, your whānau and your community safe.”

Anyone who needs a flu, COVID-19 or Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination should visit their GP, pharmacy, or Māori health provider. They can also drop into the New Plymouth and Hāwera Vaccination Centres (open every day), or one the many Winter Wellness Clinics happening every week in communities throughout Taranaki.


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