TDH best at vaccinating staff against flu

17 April 2015


Staff at Tairāwhiti District Health know that keeping vulnerable patients safe is there highest priority. That is why they had the highest percentage of staff immunised against influenza out of all New Zealand district health boards in the last two years. Three health boards managed to get more than 70% of their staff immunised last year and Tairāwhiti was the highest with 76% of all staff rolling up their sleeves and getting a small jab. 

Dr David Freschini

Dr David Freschini, anaesthetist at Gisborne Hospital, has had his flu jab just like he does every year. He spends much of his day, and some nights, close to patients who are having surgery.

The vaccine is provided free to all staff. Health care workers are more likely to be exposed to the influenza virus and get infected, says Director of Nursing and Midwifery Sonia Gamblen. “They are also more likely to pass on the virus to vulnerable patients. Many of our patients have weakened immune systems because of pre-existing conditions so not only are they more likely to become infected, the consequences are often more serious.

The Ministry of Health recommends all health care workers are immunised against influenza. This is particularly important for staff working in areas where the introduction of influenza may result in life threatening illness, for example, Neonatal Intensive Care Units, or those who are immune compromised.

New Zealand is expecting a particularly nasty strain of the virus this year; the same strains that have caused problems in the UK and Europe this winter. Influenza AH3N2, which historically been associated with higher morbidity and mortality has been the predominant strain.

This year’s vaccines for New Zealand contain two new strains, which were not included in the Northern Hemisphere vaccines for 2014/15. The change in vaccine strain will avoid the mismatch experienced in the Northern Hemisphere. Adding the strains to the vaccines has caused delays. The vaccine is now in the country and has been distributed to GPs at local medical centres.

Influenza or ‘flu’ can be a serious illness – it’s more than a “bad cold”. Anyone can catch it. Even fit and healthy people can get it and can get very sick, according to Medical Officer of Health, Dr Geoffrey Cramp.

“Some people can end up in hospital and the illness can make other conditions, such as breathing or heart problems even worse and sometimes can even lead to death,” he said.

Flu immunisation is free for New Zealanders at high risk of more severe disease and complications – pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and anyone with ongoing health conditions such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers.

Dr Cramp says Influenza immunisation cannot give you the flu because it does not contain live viruses. There can be side effects, and these usually disappear within 1-2 days without treatment