Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Counties Manukau DHB predicts ‘increased risk of severe illness’ due to influenza

South Auckland GP Dr Api Talemaitoga says he’s quietly worried preparations for this year’s flu season haven’t been ramped up fast enough. Photo: Ryan Anderson/Stuff
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Local Democracy Reporting | Free Public Interest News Service

With the annual flu season almost upon us, a number of south Auckland healthcare providers are worried about the impact it could have after two years of closed borders and reduced immunity levels.

The country’s borders will start to open up again from next month and as a result there is expected to be a higher incidence of the virus in New Zealand this year, because people haven’t been exposed to it after two seasons of very low numbers.

And with Counties Manukau still grappling with the Omicron outbreak, there are concerns about adding yet another virus into the mix.

A spokesman from Counties Manukau District Health Board said it had been working with officials from Auckland’s other DHBs and the Ministry of Health to launch its flu vaccine programme on April 1.

They said because of the lower immunity to influenza in the community, it expected there to be an “increased risk of severe illness” from the virus in the months ahead.

“Together with the expected higher prevalence of influenza this winter, we are also preparing for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, and other illnesses such as whooping cough (pertussis) throughout our population,” he said.

“Based on our long experience, we know that there will be hospitalisations for all of these diseases over the winter months and so it is vital that our communities immunise themselves and their whānau wherever possible.”

South Auckland GP Dr Api Talemaitoga is the chairman of the Pasifika GP Network and said he was concerned about the potential impact of influenza in Counties Manukau.

He said his practice had already started booking people with underlying health conditions and over-65s to get their flu jabs next month.

“But the fact that we’re now opening the country up means we’re setting ourselves up for another virus and I’m quietly worried we haven’t ramped things up fast enough.”

Talemaitoga said over the last two years there had been a noticeable drop in the numbers of people with the flu because of the country’s closed borders.

He said he would like to see the use of mass vaccination events in south Auckland again, like we saw for Covid-19.

Talemaitoga said people could get a flu jab and get their children vaccinated against Covid-19, or get a booster.

He said Pasifika and Māori healthcare providers in south Auckland had already shown they were equipped to do it and those networks needed to be harnessed by DHBs and the Ministry of Health.

Turuki Healthcare chief executive Te Puea Winiata said, like many other primary healthcare providers in south Auckland, it was still dealing with Covid-19 cases and the longer term social impact of the pandemic.

But she said the annual flu season was already on its radar and the use of drive-through vaccine centres was something it planed to roll out in the next couple of weeks.

“This time the information coming out to us from the DHB has been really slow, but we can’t wait until April 1 for a plan,” Winiata said. “This year’s flu season is going to be more of a challenge to get on top of.”



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