A record number of people have been vaccinated against the flu, with 1.2 million doses given in the lead-up to winter.
Just under half the doses were funded by the Government, the remainder were either paid for privately or were part of workplace immunisation programmes, Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said today.
''Around 1.1 million people are eligible for funded flu vaccine each year including people 65 years and over, pregnant women, children under the age of five with significant respiratory illnesses and people with ongoing health conditions.''
The Government had aimed to immunise 1.2 million people by July, she said. "This was an ambitious target, but thanks to the hard work of health professionals around the country, we have reached our goal much earlier than anticipated and just as the flu illnesses are about to begin.''
Mrs Goodhew also mentioned Wellington widower Mark McIlroy, who fronted this year's vaccination campaign after his wife Catherine died 10 months ago from the flu.
''The reason why everyone should have a flu shot is because people do die from the flu, healthy people and people with medical conditions, and my wife Catherine was 100 per cent healthy,'' Mr McIlroy says in a Ministry of Health video.
The 49-year-old mother of two was fit and healthy but afraid of needles, which prevented her from getting an annual flu jab.
She woke up on a Wednesday morning with a tickle in her throat.
''Within about two to three hours she was actually sitting and lying on the couch and she was getting hot and cold, but apart from that she seemed reasonably OK - we just thought it was just a cold type thing. But on the Friday she felt that she just had to stay in bed.''
By Saturday she was hooked up to life support at Wellington Hospital's intensive care unit.
''I stayed with her till about 10 or 11 o'clock on Saturday night and she was quite lucid and we told each other that we loved each other. They rang very early Sunday morning suggesting that I should come in and so I went back in ... then it was just a fairly short period.''
Mrs McIlroy's organs began to shut down and doctors told the family she had passed the point of no return.
Her life support was switched off and she slipped away on the Monday.
''We just didn't know that people who are healthy could die from the flu, so it's just very, very important that everyone gets a flu jab.''
Immediately after her death, Mr McIlroy paid for his family to be vaccinated and this year he and his two two children Louisa and Ollie were among the first New Zealanders to receive the Southern Hemisphere's 2013 influenza vaccine.
He also offered to pay for his 60 employees and their families to have this year's vaccination, along with the 150 students living at the University of Canterbury's College House.
- The vaccine covers three strains - influenza B, H3N2, and H1N1. These were also in last year's inoculation, which has been tweaked to make it a better match for this year's bugs.
- The Government-funded flu jabs are available to eligible people until July 31. For everyone else they cost about $30 from a GP and about $45 from a pharmacist.
- More than 1000 people were admitted to hospital for flu in New Zealand last year.
- It is caused by a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, pains and a dry cough, which usually last seven to 10 days. A cold virus only affects the nose, throat and the upper chest and lasts for a few days.
- For more information go to fightflu.co.nz or call 0800 IMMUNE.
- The Dominion Post
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