Pharmac proposes widened access to the flu vaccine for Māori and Pacific peoples for 2022 season

Media release Medicines

Pharmac is consulting on a proposal to widen access to the funded influenza vaccine to include Māori and Pacific peoples aged between 55 and 64 years of age for the 2022 influenza season.

Read the consultation on widening access

“We anticipate there would be around an additional 39,000 Māori and Pacific people aged between 55 and 64, not already eligible for the free ‘flu vaccine, who could benefit from this widened funding,” says Pharmac’s Director of Operations Lisa Williams.

Widened access would only be available for the 2022 influenza season and continued funding for future seasons would be assessed later.

“There has been minimal influenza circulating in New Zealand over the last two years, due to border restrictions and public health measure in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. There is concern that the lack of recent exposure to the flu in the community could lead to a reduced level of immunity here in New Zealand, come flu season. With the opening of borders, we are aware that this is likely to increase the risk of severe illness from influenza for people at high risk,” says Ms Williams.

Vaccination rates are much lower for Māori and Pacific peoples compared to the wider non-Māori, non-Pacific population. Māori and Pacific peoples also have a younger age distribution than other population groups and a high incidence of pre-existing health conditions.

“Our clinical advisors have told us that Māori and Pacific peoples are at increased risk from seasonal influenza. We expect that the proposed widened access would reduce access barriers for some people who may already be eligible for the flu vaccine because of pre-existing health conditions, but who may not have easy access to health care services to receive the required diagnostic assessment to confirm eligibility.”

“The presence of both influenza and COVID-19 (particularly Omicron) circulating in the community presents us with an extraordinary situation where the risk of co-infection is high. We want to ensure that as many of our most vulnerable people as possible are vaccinated against flu to reduce the burden of influenza on an already stretched health system,” says Ms Williams.

The flu vaccine is already free for those who are most vulnerable to becoming very sick if they get the flu including pregnant women, all people aged 65 and over, and people with certain health conditions, such as chronic asthma or diabetes. Those who do not qualify for the funded vaccine, can pay to be vaccinated through general practitioners, pharmacists and other private immunisation providers.  Some people might be able to get a free vaccination through their employer's occupational health programme.

The consultation has been sent to health professionals, organisations with an interest in immunisation and others who we think would be interested. It is available on the Pharmac website for anyone wanting to have their say.

If approved, funded access would be available to those who qualify from 1 April 2022.