New Zealand / Covid 19

Flu jabs could be complicated this year - sector

06:24 am on 3 April 2021

First published on

By Wyatt Ryder

Getting the flu vaccine this year could be complicated by the Covid-19 vaccine, says an immunisation specialist.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner receiving her Covid-19 vaccination. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Ministry of Health has confirmed more than 2.4 million doses of influenza vaccine have been secured, almost 300,000 doses more than last year's record supply.

The arrival of the vaccine, however, has been delayed due to a manufacturing problem.

The flu vaccine for those 65 years or older will be available from 14 April, but the vaccine for people under 65 will not be available until May, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner said it would be difficult to offer flu vaccines in May, as people would also be starting to get Covid-19 vaccines then.

She believed uptake of the flu vaccine would be lower this year because some people, such as frontline health workers, would be getting the Covid-19 one first.

Two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are required, and they must be taken at least three weeks apart.

The Covid-19 vaccine would be available in some areas about the same time as the flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine should be taken before the flu season starts in winter.

It could be difficult to get vaccinated against both the flu and Covid-19 before winter because of the timing.

Two-week gap recommended

Dr Turner said it was recommended to have a two-week gap between getting the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine, as the Covid-19 one had not yet undergone clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of taking it alongside other vaccines.

However, she said people could have both vaccines in a shorter span of time if necessary. "It's a general guideline, not an absolute rule."

It was still important for those at high risk to get vaccinated against the flu.

'Stress on system'

Dr Bryan Betty Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty said the ability to administer vaccines was a concern that had been raised.

He said between the two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and the expected flu vaccine uptake there were about 12 million vaccinations to administer over the next six months.

"This puts considerable pressure and stress across the system."

The extent of the issue would depend on the timing of the vaccines, and how much crossover there was between them.

WellSouth medical director Stephen Graham said the timing of the vaccines was already causing problems for rest homes.

He said there were large numbers of people in aged residential care who were considered to be at high risk of Covid-19 and would be potentially receiving Covid-19 shots soon.

He was uncertain if the flu vaccine available in April for people over 65 would be delayed for those needing Covid-19 vaccines because of the two-week gap required.

Dr Turner said she did not expect there would be a lot of flu this year, as border control and social distancing were still in effect, but it was likely to be worse than last year as New Zealand was not in a full lockdown.

Regardless, she said it was impossible to say how bad it will be. "We hope we won't have a bad flu season, but we can never predict."

This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times