With the reopening of the New Zealand borders strains of influenza that have been absent, or below pre-pandemic level, will be circulating in our community again. An ‘immunity gap’ occurs when a virus has been absent for a period of time. This is because our immune system’s response to an illness is less effective when there has not been recent exposure.
As we continue to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to work to close the immunity gaps that have been created. The most effective tool for reducing the impact of this flu season is the influenza vaccine.
Influenza rates have been very low in the last two years due to lock downs and border closures. While we cannot predict how mild or severe a winter flu season will be, the international borders reopening in April will reconnect Aotearoa to the world. With more kiwis returning home and tourism increasing, rates of flu are expected to rise2.
The outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in 2021, highlights the impact of immunity gaps. Following the opening of the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble we recorded RSV infections at a rate seven times higher than previous years (1992 – 2020). Increased international travel is closely linked to the introduction, and reintroduction, of virus strains to NZ.
We won’t have strong natural immunity to the new flu virus strains, and will need to rely on vaccine-induced immunity. Unlike with RSV, the influenza vaccine can minimise the effects of these viruses. Getting vaccinated against the flu will save lives and prevent our hospitals from becoming overloaded.
The Influenza (Flu) Vaccine 2022
New Zealand’s 2022 flu vaccine will protect against four strains of flu virus – two influenza type A strains and two influenza type B strains:
A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus
The strains in bold are new for 20221. It is important to be vaccinated every year as protection from the previous year’s strains become less effective over time. Additionally, each year the vaccine is made to match the different strains of flu virus likely to be in NZ6.
The vaccine cannot give you the flu as it does not contain any live viruses. The vaccine stimulates an immune response which can make you feel slightly unwell. This is a natural immune response and is a good sign your immune system is working6.
The 2022 southern hemisphere flu vaccine contains strains that were circulating during the northern hemisphere’s flu season. This places us at an advantage when the borders reopen to travellers from across the globe.
Navigating Flu & Covid in the Workplace
Influenza is a serious illness that causes hundreds of deaths each winter in Aotearoa, and continues to be a major threat to public health worldwide4. The flu is very infectious and is easily spread to other people, particularly in close contact situations such as workplaces.
There is concern about the potentially serious negative consequences if people experience COVID-19 and flu at the same time, so vaccination against the flu is highly recommended. There is no reason why people who have had COVID-19 shouldn’t be vaccinated against flu. The recommendation from The Immunisation Advisory Centre is that the vaccine can be given immediately following the isolation period and symptom resolution2. The flu vaccine can also be administered at the same time or immediately after the COVID-19 vaccine3. Most people can receive the influenza vaccine, however if you are unwell, you should postpone your vaccination. Additionally, people who have had previous allergic reactions to vaccines should not be vaccinated unless advised by their GP.
Around 1 in 4 New Zealanders are infected with flu each year. Of these, up to 80% may have no symptoms, yet are able to pass it on to other people5. As rates of flu increase in the community, so will the number of symptomatic and unwell people. This means the number of people in the workplace needing to isolate may increase, as well as increased sick leave use and workplace disruption. Getting the flu vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others from becoming unwell6.
Many of the principles we used to fight the Covid-19 pandemic also apply to flu – get vaccinated, stay away from others if you are unwell, wash your hands regularly, and cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
MedPro is proud to be New Zealand’s leading provider of workplace vaccinations, contact us today to discuss your flu vaccination requirements.