Flu jabs reach one million but still a long way to go

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Venkat Raman

Venkat Raman

Auckland, June 17, 2022

Health Minister Andrew Little at the Pasefika Family Health Group in Auckland on June 16, 2022 (RNZ Photo by Katie Todd)

The number of flu vaccine rollout crossed one million mark on June 16, 2022 but Ministers of the Crown are determined to improve the record.

As they celebrated the milestone, Health Minister Andrew Little joined officials at the Pasefika Family Health Group in Auckland to mark a special occasion.

But he faced the grim reality of the situation – healthcare workers grappling with a sickness surge across the healthcare centres and one million more flu shots waiting to be used.

Mr Little agreed that the situation needs improvement.

This year’s flu vaccine tally was half way to last year’s total of 2.1 million and he acknowledged that it came with an urgent need.

“We are certainly seeing some hospitals, and ED departments in some hospitals, under the pump. We have seen Counties Manukau, Wellington, Canterbury and Auckland Central also experiencing the stress. We know that a lot of people are turning up; they are not a whole bunch more people with Covid-19 anymore. This is people with flu symptoms, with respiratory symptoms.  I have just been with the ambulance service. They are saying that a lot of their callouts are people with flu symptoms,” Mr Little said.

The unvaccinated population

He said that his Ministry as well the government are keen to see more people come forward for flu injection across the country.

One million is only half the total number of vaccines the government ordered this year.

With anyone over the age of six months able to get a flu vaccine, there are still just over four million people who have not been vaccinated.

Radio New Zealand spoke to many people on the streets of Panmure in Auckland.

They said that they simply did not see the need.

“I have not had flu – well, a proper flu, for probably 20-odd years,” one person said.

“I have never had one and it has never been a problem,” another person said.

One man said that there had been another much more dominant illness on his mind.

“I stopped thinking about all the things going around – no one talks about anything except Covid,” he said.

Among the people who had been vaccinated, RNZ found one thing in common.

“I get it for free from work and it just makes sense,” said one.

“I was quite lucky they came into the residence where I was staying… and just asked if we wanted it for free… and that’s the good thing, that it’s free,” said another.

Eligibility widened

In February, the government widened the eligibility for people to get vaccinated for free.

But figures provided to RNZ by the Ministry of Health showed that just 18.1% of the population met the new criteria – a total of 914,920 people.

Some doctors said that was not enough, and they wanted it to be free for everyone.

Mr Little argued that cost was not necessarily the biggest barrier.

“We will keep an eye on what is happening. For a lot of people I get this message, it is just fitting it into busy lives. Even a lot of our health workers, who work so hard, they struggle to get that, because there is 20 minutes observation time and they have got to build into it,” he said.

Increasing interest

Pasefika Family Health Group has administered about 500 flu jabs to date.

General manager Vaifagaloa Naseri said that more people were becoming interested, having seen others around them get sick.

“The flu this time is worse, and hence people are rushing to get an injection. They even ring us ask if they can come for a flu vaccine, even if they are sick. But we advise them to come to the clinic if they are not well,” she said..

Her simple message was: Do not wait until it is too late.

GP Shortage

Over the past few nights Checkpoint has been reporting on the GP shortage that is forcing some people to travel hundreds of kilometres to see a doctor or in some cases wait months to get enrolled in a local clinic.

As many as half the country’s GP clinics are not taking on new patients – with a perfect storm of winter illnesses, Covid-19 infections and short-staffing.

Health Minister Andrew Little agreed that people should not have to wait so long.

He said that the Southern DHB was working to rectify the problems there.

“One of the challenges for the future is that we need to increase the number of GPs. But, there should also be more involvement from others in the allied health workforce like nurse practitioners, to take some of the burden from GPs. Just having two or three doctors running around the practice will not meet the needs of the future,” he said.

Some primary health organisations had been excellent, he said, but he wondered about some others.

“They are not improving services for the populations or the GPs for whom they are responsible. New Zealand Health is doing ‘innovative’ work and would be in much better shape that DHBs to have a look at primary care,” Mr Little said.

The above Report and picture have been sourced from www.rnz.co.nz

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