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Southern Cross tackles looming immunity gap with free flu vaccines for members

Friday, 1 April 2022 by Alaina McGregor

Southern Cross Health Insurance (Southern Cross) is backing moves to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible as a potentially severe influenza season looms. To help close the country’s immunity gap, the health insurer is offering a free flu jab to its members.

New Zealand’s influenza rates have been low throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, due to border closures and lockdowns. However, with borders reopening, visitors to the country will likely bring strains of influenza that have either been absent or below pre-pandemic levels for the past two years.

This lack of exposure to influenza means the immune systems of many New Zealanders won’t respond as effectively to flu as they might have previously. To help counter this, ahead of winter, Southern Cross Health Insurance is offering its members a free flu vaccine via Southern Cross Healthcare joint venture MedPro.*

Southern Cross Health Insurance Chief Medical Officer, Dr Stephen Child, said getting as many New Zealanders as possible vaccinated against influenza will be critical this season.

“New Zealand’s strict border controls for managing the spread of Covid-19 mean the influenza virus has largely been absent for a significant period of time, which creates an ‘immunity gap’. The most effective tool we have for closing this gap is the influenza vaccine.

“Last year’s RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) outbreak following the brief opening of the border between New Zealand and Australia shows the pressure such immunity gaps can place on the health system. It also puts vulnerable people, in particular, babies, young children and the elderly, at high risk of becoming very unwell,” said Dr Child

Southern Cross Health Insurance CEO Nick Astwick said partnering with MedPro to offer members a free flu vaccine in 2022 is vital for protecting the health and wellbeing of Southern Cross members, their whānau and the wider community.

“We know our members are worried about the increased risk to them and their family of getting sick over the winter months, so by removing the cost barrier of getting the flu vaccine, we hope to give our members the assurance that they can access the support they need to help prevent becoming unwell with the flu.

“As a membership society, our brand promise is to be with our members. This offer is another example of our commitment, and of the unique difference of being with Southern Cross.

“With the return of international tourism likely meaning an introduction of new influenza strains, a flu outbreak has the potential to make many New Zealanders very ill and place even more strain on the health sector. That’s why we’re taking this practical step to help protect our members’ health through the winter months, which is in addition to the free telehealth and mental wellbeing support we’re also offering members at the same time, said Astwick.

The Government has already revealed funding for an extra 250,000 flu vaccines this year to protect the country’s most vulnerable communities, meaning up to two million New Zealanders will be eligible for support.

“Combined with this flu immunisation offer to our Southern Cross members, there’s potential for a significant number of New Zealanders to get a free flu jab and help us all better navigate the looming combination of influenza and Covid-19,” added Astwick.

MedPro Managing Director Bella Winter said it’s important to get a flu vaccine every year, as protection from previous strains is less effective over time, and each year the vaccine is made to match any new strains. It is especially important this year with Covid-19 also circulating in the community.

“There are potentially serious consequences if people develop Covid-19 and flu at the same time, so we’re strongly urging people to get their flu vaccine,” said Winter.

*From April 1, Southern Cross Health Insurance members will be able to register to receive a voucher from MedPro that can be redeemed for a free flu vaccination at any participating Green Cross pharmacy (Unichem and Life Pharmacy). Members can download a voucher until 30 June, 2022. Offer subject to availability and to change. For full terms and conditions click here.

The Southern Cross flu vaccine programme falls under its Better ‘22 offer which launched in December last year to improve members’ overall wellbeing, including free telehealth consults from CareHQ and up to three free mental wellbeing and counselling sessions via Raise – another Southern Cross Healthcare joint venture.

FLU VACCINE FACTS:

  • Some groups are already eligible for a free influenza vaccine, including those aged 65 and older, pregnant people, children aged four and younger who have a history of significant respiratory illness, and people who have a qualifying medical condition.
  • Each year’s flu vaccine is developed to tackle the different strains of influenza likely to be found in New Zealand. This year’s vaccine includes strains that have been circulating through the northern hemisphere’s flu season.
  • People who have had Covid-19 can still be vaccinated against influenza. The flu and COVID-19 vaccinations can be given at the same time, before or after each other. There is no need to leave a gap between these vaccinations.
  • Most people can receive the flu vaccine, however they should postpone their appointment if they’re feeling unwell. People who have had previous allergic reactions to vaccines should consult their GP before receiving a flu jab.

More information about the symptoms, treatment and vaccination of influenza can be found at the Southern Cross Medical Library.

ENDS

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