Winter is coming, and if health authorities have their way more than 1.25 million New Zealanders will be ready for it.
Health Minister Tony Ryall launched the official influenza vaccination campaign at Wellington Hospital today, getting his own flu jab alongside five pregnant women.
Pregnant women, who are 18 times more likely to need hospital treatment for the flu than non-pregnant women, are a special target this year.
The flu jab this year includes vaccination against two new strains of virus deemed by the World Health Organisation as a risk.
Primary school teacher Rowan Barr, with her due date just over a week away, was one of the women protecting herself against the flu.
"I've had [vaccinations] for about 10 years now anyway because I'm a primary school teacher and I've got an elderly grandmother with respiratory problems, but it's nice that I can give some of the immunity to the baby through this," she said.
"The risks are small getting an immunisation, and it's such a big benefit."
Nelson mother Tania Kirkland gave birth to twins Tallulah and Fleur-ange a week ago.
They were several weeks premature and are in incubators in Wellington Hospital's neonatal unit.
Kirkland had never had a flu jab before but decided it was too risky not to this year.
"I just didn't want to get sick and transmit it to them," she said.
"I never get sick and I have a good diet and everything else, but you get extremely protective when you have these children who are so fragile."
National Influenza Specialist Group chairwoman Michelle Kapinga said it was hoped more than 1.25 million New Zealanders would get immunised this year, beating last year's number.
Last year, the country had a relatively mild flu season, she said.
While pregnant women were a focus this year, even healthy people could get the flu and die from it, and it was important that vulnerable people were protected.
The composition of this year's vaccination is California 2009, a H1N1-like virus, and new strains Texas 2012, a H3N2-like virus, and Massachusetts 2012.
Vaccination is free from a GP or nurse until July 31 for those at high risk of complications. This includes pregnant women, those over 65, or under 65 with long-term health problems.
- The Dominion Post
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