• Neil Kirton
Associate Minister of Health

Fewer influenza complications will be a result of free vaccinations available for people aged 65 years from March 1997, says Neil Kirton, Associate Health Minister.

Not enough New Zealanders who are most at risk from the worst effects of influenza are being immunised. We lag behind most other developed countries - almost twice as many Australians as New Zealanders are immunised each year, he says.

To address this, last year the Government announced funding of $17.4 million to the regional health authorities over the next three years for the vaccination programme and a campaign to promote its use.

Influenza vaccines now in use have a very good record. They help prevent respiratory illness, prevent pneumonia, reduce hospitalisation and prevent death.

I would encourage all people aged 65 years and over to see their general practitioner to obtain their free vacination.

For every death diagnosed as being due to influenza, a further eight are attributable to influenza but are not diagnosed as such.

Influenza is a viral illness that is a significant cause of illness and death among the elderly and those with chronic disease. The classic symptoms are fever, chills, headaches and muscle pains and general weakness. The disease is highly infectious and can be easily spread by sneezing, coughing and talking.

Overseas studies indicate that influenza immunisation reduces hospitalisations and deaths by about half.

To help achieve these benefits the Ministry of Health aims to increase to 70 percent the proportion of at risk population who receive a yearly influenza vaccine from the current 25 to 30 percent, Mr Kirton says.

The Ministry of Health advises that those people considered at risk from influenza should be vaccinated each year.