Respiratory patients concerned about COVID-19 should still attend their local medical centre or pharmacy for flu jabs and prescription medications, says Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ.

While many are preoccupied by the ongoing pandemic, more common illnesses such as influenza have not gone away, nor has the need to keep up with prescription medications.

"We’ve been told by pharmacists, doctors, and community medical centres that people are avoiding leaving their homes, even to pick up their refills of prescribed medication," says Letitia Harding, Asthma Foundation CEO. "This is obviously a huge concern, as people with long-term respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD are at high risk of complications from flu, even if their symptoms are mild or well-controlled by medication."

Immunisation is the best protection against influenza as even if someone still catches the flu after immunisation, their symptoms are less likely to be severe. Immunisation is also important for people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, and young children.

"Complications from the flu can be severe," says Letitia. "It would be horribly ironic to successfully avoid COVID and then get very sick from just the seasonal flu, so we strongly urge anyone in the vulnerable groups to get the vaccine as soon as they can."

Joanna Turner, Education and Research Manager for the Foundation and an experienced pharmacist, says that the flu is no less dangerous now than it was before COVID-19.

"One in four Kiwis are infected with influenza every year," says Joanna, " and while it is likely that current social distancing practices will reduce the risk of infection, it won’t reduce the impact if you do catch it. "Getting the flu vaccination now offers you and others the best protection."

The free flu vaccine is available to all people 65 years of age and over, people under 65 who have asthma and take regular preventative medication, or have a chronic respiratory disease with impaired lung function. It is also free for children aged four years and under who have significant respiratory illness.

"Medical practitioners have been advised that even during this lockdown period, they should be making contact with all their at-risk eligible patients to organise a time for them to receive their flu vaccine," says Joanna. "There are new practices in place to deliver the flu vaccination programme as safely as possible, with minimal risk to the patient and the vaccinator."

For the rest of the population who are not eligible for a free flu vaccine, the administration of these vaccines has been deferred until Monday, 27 April 2020.