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United against influenza

Eligible Three Rivers Medical patients are being vaccinated against influenza by Turanga Health nurses as the region’s two biggest primary health providers unite against the deadly disease.
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Turnga Health registered nurse Kim Biddle during an influenza vaccination home visit.

Turanga Health staff are already out in the community. It’s what they are good at so the partnership means we can use them to help get to our patients that qualify for the free vaccination.

Chief Executive Ingrid Collins.

Eligible Three Rivers Medical patients are being vaccinated against influenza by Turanga Health nurses as the region’s two biggest primary health providers unite against the deadly disease.

 

Three Rivers Medical co-owner and chief executive Ingrid Collins says Turanga Health’s offer of help to ensure patients over the age of 65 are vaccinated against influenza has come just at the right time.

 

Local figures from the National Immunisation Register show 64 percent of people aged over 65 in the district have been immunised as of 29 May – up by 11 percent on last year’s figures.

The figures also show 1350 over-65-year-olds who identify as Māori have been immunised – 56 percent of those who are eligible.

But that means 1060 over-65-year-olds who identify as Maori around the district haven’t been immunised.

“We want to make sure the eligible patients enrolled with our practice don’t miss the chance at protection,” says Mrs Collins.

Mrs Collins says nurses and kaiāwhina from Turanga Health already have a relationship with many Three Rivers patients as part of the iwi provider’s work.

“Turanga Health staff are already out in the community. It’s what they are good at so the partnership means we can use them to help get to our patients that qualify for the free vaccination.”

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an infectious respiratory illness, caused by strains of the influenza virus. 

Each year it has a large impact on the community with 10-20 percent of New Zealanders infected. Some of these people become so ill they need hospital care, and a small number die.

As part of the Ministry of Health's preparation for the potential impact of Covid-19 on the health sector, the 2020 influenza immunisation programme began early, from 18 March, for eligible patients, as they are at greatest risk of serious illness from influenza. 

Turanga Health now has five, two-person vaccinating teams working around the rohe. A kaiāwhina makes contact with the eligible person and lets them know when they will next be in their area.  The kaiāwhina then books the person in for vaccination and a Turanga Health nurse administers the flu jab in the person’s home.

Turanga Health adds the vaccination details to the National Immunisation Register, a computerised system that holds immunisation information of New Zealanders.

Turanga Health chief executive Reweti Ropiha says there’s a couple of very good reasons why the large iwi health provider wanted to help.

He says influenza is incredibly easy to catch and following New Zealand’s move through the lower alert levels, interactions between people are increasing.

Alongside the onset of winter, it’s human nature for people to spend more time inside, Mr Ropiha says. 

If someone has the virus then there is a risk of giving it to anyone you are sharing air with indoors. “Our pakeke are vulnerable and so we want to get to them if we can.”

By Monday 8 June Turanga Health staff had managed to track down 50 hard to reach pakeke who otherwise would have gone unvaccinated.

Mr Ropiha says it’s important for whānau to remember the flu vaccine does not protect them against Covid-19 but it will help to “flatten the curve” of demand on Gisborne Hospital this winter.

The shared influenza vaccination campaign is not the first time the two health organisations have worked together. Four years ago, Turanga Health’s flexible hours and community-based staffing were used to help more eligible Three Rivers Medical patients into smoking cessation programmes. Last year Turanga Health helped encourage more Three Rivers female patients to come in for their regular smear.

“Some of our patients are hard to reach,” says Mrs Collins. “But that’s the kind of work that Turanga Health is so good at. It’s a great relationship that’s helping look after the health and wellbeing of this community.”