Teachers trial flu jab alternatives

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014

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Teachers at some Wellington schools are being offered herbal medicine and vitamins as alternatives to a flu vaccination.

Waterloo School in Lower Hutt is trialling alternatives to the flu jab for the first time this year after a decline in the number of teachers getting the injection.

The idea arose after administration manager Cheryl Wilson started investigating other ways to support teachers who opposed flu vaccinations for personal reasons.

Wilson, who chose a two-month course of the herbal medicine echinacea, was one of 10 staff to do so. They appreciated having the choice and were lucky the school was in a position to be able to afford to offer free options, she said.

Ten other staff picked multi-vitamins, while 16 received vaccinations, and nine staff did not want any of the options.

Wilson pointed out that options were not being offered to children, for whom parents would choose whether to vaccinate.

At school, children were educated to sneeze and cough into their elbows, wash their hands and use tissues, but nothing more.

Hutt Intermediate has been offering vitamins in conjunction with either echinacea or a flu vaccination for about a decade.

Deputy principal Jocelyn Pollock said some teachers did not like needles and others did not agree with vaccination, so the school offered a choice.

"There may not be a huge amount of research behind echinacea, but some people find it effective," she said.

This year 29 staff received the jab while 22 chose a supply of echinacea.

Pollock said it cost the school "a few thousand dollars" to offer all three options.

Teachers were not the only profession being offered a choice, according to flu vaccination provider Maxwell Health.

Managing director Jo Maxwell said she knew of some Wellington companies that offered anti-bacterial Buccaline tablets as an alternative to the flu vaccination.

The Ministry of Health promotes immunisation as the best protection against flu. As of last week, about 618,000 doses of vaccine had been distributed this year - almost half way to the ministry's target of 1.2 million people vaccinated by July 31.

Otago University professor Michael Baker said scientific proof behind echinacea and vitamins keeping flu at bay was lacking. "If alternatives are being promoted, there needs to be evidence.

"There are still 400 people in New Zealand dying each year from influenza . . . so we're not dealing with a trivial illness."

Schools should be encouraging all staff with chronic illnesses, or teachers who were pregnant, to get the vaccination, he said. "Flu vaccines are better than they have ever been."

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Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said employers were offering a range of ways for their staff to keep healthy, including medical and lifestyle help.

"I'm not aware of any employers offering anything outside of the flu jab, and that's probably because they're being conservative in the medical services they provide."

- The Dominion Post

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