Authorities urge action as fewer seek flu jabs

Fewer Cantabrians have received a flu jab this year but it is not too late, health authorities say.

Just under 200,000 doses of influenza vaccine have been distributed for 38 per cent of the population.

This was 17,000 doses less than at the same time last year, Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said.

Last year, 42 per cent were vaccinated, including 74 per cent of over 65s and 33 per cent of under 18s - the best result ever in New Zealand.

"Last year people were probably particularly motivated by a severe flu season in the United States and extensive media coverage of the high child mortality," Humphrey said.

Riccarton Clinic general manager Mark Darvill said staff had noticed a decrease in patients wanting the flu vaccine this year.

Last April, the clinic received 1000 extra patients who wanted to receive the vaccination.

"This year we've just not seen those numbers," he said.

The clinic had seen a small number of flu cases this year but the numbers were up on last year, Darvill said.

Humphrey said flu season usually peaked in August and September.

The Government last week announced an extension to its influenza immunisation programme to the end of August.

It provides the vaccine free for people aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions such as severe asthma, and children under five years who have been hospitalised for a respiratory illness.

"The vaccine was due to be funded until July 31, but our surveillance shows that winter flu cases are rising and have not yet peaked," Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said.

Humphrey said the Canterbury District Health Board had extended its funding of the vaccine for the under-18s until the end of August.

Humphrey urged people not to wait until flu numbers increased to get vaccinated.

"The best possible protection takes up to two weeks to develop after vaccination and general practices are busy at this time of year," he said.

The Press