Renewing COVID-19, influenza and other viruses are pushing the New Zealand health system to the limit

As Aotearoa New Zealand heads into the colder winter months, the pressure on our health system and staff is growing significantly.

In addition to the continuing impact of COVID-19, flu cases have begun to rise.

The conditions are also prepared for the potential outbreak of other diseases, including measles, pertussis and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

If we are to survive the coming storm, it will be necessary to take public health measures again, which will slow down the spread of respiratory infections, and also to renew efforts at universal vaccination.

The first wave of Omicron swept over Aotearo and New Zealand in late February and March.

Unfortunately, as seen in many other countries, the decline in cases has been much slower than the increase, with infections reaching a plateau in all age groups.

Hospitalizations for or with COVID-19 are beginning to rise to their previous peak in younger age groups.

The numbers of cases were caused by a high number of infections in young people aged 10 to 29 years. But seniors bore the brunt of hospitalizations, largely due to the higher risk of serious consequences for older adults.

Leaving aside age stratification, persistent inequalities have also left Māori and Pasifika at the end of the epidemic, both in terms of cases and serious consequences.

The numbers of hospitalizations and reinfections are growing in many age groups, reflecting trends that can be seen elsewhere.

Unwanted resumption of COVID-19

New Zealand can expect another revival of COVID-19 this winter.

While 95% of New Zealand received a second dose of the vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world, they received only a small amount of revaccination. We also have sub-optimal levels of childhood immunization.

Long COVID will add another layer of complications to our medical services.

A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that one in five COVID-19 survivors aged 18 to 64 and one in four survivors aged 65 and over has experienced at least one condition attributable to a previous covid19 infection.

Despite the fact that this generation is identified as one of the challenges in the field of disability, there is currently no long-term test for COVID.

It is worrying that the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Australia has begun to rise. Evidence from Australia has shown that the vast majority of people die of COVID-19, not COVID-19.

COVID-19-related deaths have recently increased in Australia.
Our world in dates

Winter will bring more than COVID-19

Healthcare professionals are not just afraid of COVID-19. The flu and other viruses are also expected to hit hard this year.

Thanks to closed borders, controlled isolation and quarantine and quarantine, New Zealand last experienced the flu season in 2019.

We are now more vulnerable to the virus. There has already been an increase in Dunedin.

In response, the government made two million vaccines available and expanded people’s ability to get vaccinations for free.

Unfortunately, there are growing concerns that part of the population may not be vaccinated due to immunization fatigue or that this will not be possible due to structural inequalities in access to vaccines.

As with COVID-19, looking through Tasman can help us understand what is likely to happen in New Zealand.

As in New Zealand, influenza rates in Australia have so far been very low due to closed borders.

The latest Australian national influenza surveillance shows a sharp increase in the incidence of influenza, as well as a growing number of hospitalizations and ICUs.

Laboratory reports of influenza in Australia show a nationwide sharp increase before the winter, comparable to 2017 and 2019.

For other diseases, there are gaps in vaccination

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic even began, our research showed a decline in children’s vaccination coverage against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Public health officials are now seeing another significant decline in routine childhood vaccinations.

Maintaining high inoculated coverage in the current environment of circulating COVID-19 disease.
Dr. Anna Howe, The Immunization Advisory Center, University of Auckland

In April, the World Health Organization reported a 79% increase in measles cases in the first two months of 2022.

A meaningful solution to long-term inequalities in children’s vaccination programs is taking on new urgency in the face of these vaccination gaps.

Lessons can also be learned from the COVID-19 vaccination program regarding the success of handing over management to Māori and Pasifika community providers in order to improve vaccination coverage.

The health care system is under unprecedented pressure

We have long been warned that an underfunded health care system may face a seasonal increase in demand.

Pressure points have appeared all over the country. On May 23, the COVID-19 ward at Dunedin Hospital was filled. Two days later, Nelson Hospital also encountered capacity limits, which led to a temporary ambulance service on the emergency department.

The Canterbury District Health Board, the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and the MidCentral District Health Board have recently called on people to consider alternative care for less serious conditions to help ease the pressure.

Community health care providers are also trying to meet requirements.

What can you do?

During the winter we spend more time indoors with insufficient ventilation. As our policies relax, we are also increasingly satisfied with wearing masks.

The vaccine will need to be improved in the future.

But for now, it is important to note that three doses of COVID-19 remain effective against hospitalization in newer variants and also reduce the risk of infection.

But there are things we can all do to avoid the worst this winter has to offer, including:

  • ventilate the interior – especially in crowded rooms
  • where social distance is not possible, especially inside buildings, use suitable masks
  • get vaccinated against COVID-19, which helps protect you from the most serious form of COVID-19 while protecting others by reducing transmission. Further routine flu and measles vaccinations will also be important to consider.

Finally, the workplace should continue to encourage people to stay at home and isolate themselves when needed.Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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