3 Nov 2009

Swine flu vaccination extended to at-risk groups

9:12 pm on 3 November 2009

Pregnant women, obese people and young children in poor areas will be included among those who are able to get free vaccinations against swine flu.

Health Minister Tony Ryall announced on Tuesday the $2 million extension to the free flu vaccination scheme, saying New Zealand could face another wave of swine flu before next winter.

Vaccinations against swine flu will be carried out from March as part of the regular vaccinations against seasonal flu.

Those are free for people over 65, and between the ages of six months and 65 who have pre-existing health conditions including chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

Mr Ryall says free flu vaccination, containing swine flu vaccine, will be extended for groups at special risk of swine flu - pregnant women, people with a body mass index of 40 or greater, and children between the ages of six months and four years enrolled at particular low-decile doctors' practices.

Mr Ryall says the highest rate of hospitalisation for swine flu has been among Maori and Pacific children under the age of five.

He says the extension to the scheme would cover 68,000 children though it is not yet known how many will take it up.

The director of Auckland University's Immunisation Advisory Centre says alarming rates of pandemic influenza amongst Maori and Pacific Island children are strongly linked to poverty.

Dr Nikki Turner says the rate of pandemic influenza in Pacific children under one-year-old is 18 times higher than for Pakeha children the same age.

She says this is mostly related to living conditions, including overcrowded housing and poor nutrition.