Flu vaccinations, delayed by manufacturing issues, will add pressure to general practices as they ramp up to administer Covid-19 vaccinations to the public from July, doctors say.
New Zealand has low levels of flu but the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble could bring the virus in while a month-long delay to the flu schedule would create a crunch for general practices who are ramping up to administer the Pfizer vaccine, as well as childhood vaccinations, doctors say.
GP Larry Jordan, who is also chairman of the Tū Ora Compass primary health organization, said there were workforce and space considerations for the vaccines, which had to be administered two weeks apart.
The Pfizer vaccine will be rolled out to the general population from July, but Health Minister Andrew Little said vaccinations will be scaled up to 50,000 a day by late May or early June. It will be administered at general practices and people could also be inoculated at stadiums, pharmacies, or in work or school.
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Jordan expected a high up-take of the flu vaccine following last year’s record numbers where 1.77 million people were jabbed. The Ministry of Health has more than 2.4 million doses of influenza vaccine on order for 2021.
Dr Bryan Betty, medical director of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the delay was inconvenient for people who wanted a flu vaccination in April, such as those with chronic health problems like diabetes, but it allowed GPs to focus on the over- 65s who would be jabbed from Wednesday.
However, those under the age of 65 will need to wait one month later than the usual schedule, starting in May.
“It could also push the vaccination program out to the start of Covid-19 ramping up which could present issues,” he said. “We will have to wait and see.”
Karori GP Jeff Lowe said it was important people were jabbed for both vaccines in the right order, and it would be a busy 12 months for doctors.
“We have got more than 10 million vaccinations to do over the country in the next 12 months,” he said.
“We need to remember there is little to no Covid-19 in New Zealand. With the trans-Tasman bubble opening, it does mean there may be flu entering our border again.
“As well as general practice as usual, now that there is the highlighting of the importance of cervical smears – that is one to add to the list as well.”
Immunization Advisory Center director Dr Nikki Turner said the organization was working to clarify when in May the program would start. The doses were coming from Australia, while manufacturing issues weren’t uncommon, she added.
ESR virologist Dr Sue Huang said a few weeks delay should not have much of an impact on the flu season because very little flu had been detected so far.
Covid-19 vaccine development or manufacturing didn’t have an impact on the flu vaccine, she added.
Yearly flu vaccinations were recommended because protection from the previous vaccination lessens over time and strains in the vaccine usually changed each year in response to the changing virus pattern.
The measles, mumps and rubella catch-up campaign is also due to ramp up in October.