With international borders reopened, the Ministry expects to see new strains of flu entering the country. After two years of protection from these strains, community immunity to flu is low. This means getting protected with the seasonal flu vaccine is more important than ever, especially for those with respiratory conditions.
Influenza is a serious illness that affects the nose, throat and lungs, and can worsen existing respiratory conditions like asthma. Even those with well-controlled asthma, remain at higher risk of developing pneumonia if they catch the flu.
A further risk this winter is the possibility of having flu and Covid-19 within a short space of time. While recent research has shown that people with asthma are not more likely to catch Covid-19 or experience more severe Covid-19 symptoms, the combined effect of flu and Covid-19 poses a yet unknown risk to respiratory health.
The Ministry of Health is advising that the best protection this winter is for people to be vaccinated against both Covid-19 and flu. People can receive their Covid-19 vaccine or booster at the same time as receiving their flu vaccine. If you have recently had Covid-19, the Ministry recommends getting your flu vaccine as soon as you are recovered.
People with asthma who are prescribed regular preventer medicine and those with other chronic breathing conditions are eligible for free flu vaccines. These vaccines are available to adults and children, six months and older, between April and December each year. Health practitioners recommend getting annual flu jabs early, to ensure best protection before flu season begins. Free flu vaccines are also available to those children who have a history of significant respiratory illness, between the ages of six months and five years.
As there is a natural decline in immunity associated with aging, older people are more vulnerable to flu and complications arising from flu. Older people also have lower physiological reserves which means a slower recovery from illness. For this reason, flu vaccines are particularly important for people over 65 with respiratory illnesses. In 2022, the flu vaccine is free for Māori and Pacific peoples, aged 55 years and over.
The symptoms of flu, like shortness of breath and coughing, can be very similar to those of Covid-19. Both flu and Covid-19 can cause additional symptoms such as a sore throat, fatigue, an upset stomach. Changes in taste and smell are more likely with Covid-19 than flu. If you have symptoms of any kind, it’s important to have a Covid test and self-isolate while you wait for results.
The Ministry has also highlighted that there is a low risk of getting a second case of Covid-19, within 90 days of a first infection. In this situation, anyone with underlying respiratory conditions should seek advice from their GP or Healthline.
The 2022 flu vaccine contains the harmless parts of four strains of flu virus, not the whole virus. When you receive the flu jab, your immune system reacts to these parts and produces antibodies that will protect you against the flu. The jab can only protect you against these four types of flu, it cannot protect you against Covid-19 or the common cold. After receiving the flu vaccine it takes up to two weeks for your body to start protecting against the flu.
For more information see the Ministry of Health's website.