In an effort to ease pressure on the health system the Government has widened the criteria for free flu vaccines – making them available for approximately an extra 800,000 people.

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Most of the newly eligible are children aged 3 to 12 after a high number of pre-schoolers were hospitalised with influenza.

Tamariki under 9 years of age who have not previously received flu vaccine will need two doses given four weeks apart to gain full immunity for 2022.

Also eligible are people with specific mental health conditions and or addiction issues.

The widened access will start from 1 July.

“There has been a sharp increase in the flu cases recorded this season with the impact on our communities, likened to that of Covid-19,” Pharmac’s Director of Operations, Lisa Williams said.

“With less influenza circulating in previous years, New Zealanders have a lower immunity, so it is more important than ever to boost our protection and reduce preventable hospitalisations and pressure on the healthcare system.”

Chief Executive of The Mental Health Foundation, Shaun Robinson welcomed the widening of access.

“People with such lived experience are often vulnerable to disproportionately poor physical health due to issues such as poverty, discrimination in housing and diagnostic over-shadowing – where their physical health needs are not given adequate attention because of their mental health or addiction issues,” he said.

“People with lived experience of mental distress and of addictions have the right to good physical health and health care – the Pharmac decision about funded flu vaccine takes us another step towards this goal.”

Meanwhile access to a second Covid-19 booster vaccine will be made available on Tuesday for some at risk New Zealanders – including those over 50 and healthcare workers over 30.