At a glance: Flu season -- what you need to know

At a glance: Flu season -- what you need to know

More than 1 million Kiwis get their flu shots each year. The annual influenza immunisation campaign launches today, and New Zealanders are being urged to get their jabs ahead of flu season.

This year's vaccine has two new strains to ensure better protection against the strains of influenza circulating around the world -- A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2) and B/Brisbane/60/2008.

The flu can be dangerous. It contributes to thousands of hospitalisations each year, and as many as 400 flu-associated deaths. High-risk groups include the elderly and those with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease and cancer.

"One of the ongoing challenges of the influenza programme is improving immunisation coverage for groups who are eligible for free immunisation, particularly among people with ongoing medical conditions," says Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre Dr Nikki Turner says pregnant women are also at high risk.

"Pregnant women are more likely to suffer severe flu and end up in hospital. If they're immunised it passes on a high level of protection to their baby too."

It's free for over-65s, pregnant women and those at high risk of complications. The vaccine will be funded for eligible patients until the end of July.

For others it costs between $20 and $30, depending on your GP. Some pharmacists and work places also offer it.

Similar to previous years, a total of 1.2 million doses are expected to be distributed this year.

Getting vaccinated can cut your risk of getting flu by 50 percent, although it's most effective in healthy adults and children and less effective for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Dr Turner says it's not just about individual protection.

"Healthcare workers and people who spend time around the elderly are encouraged to get the flu vaccine so they don't spread it."

The official flu season starts at the end of April and runs through to September, but hospitals are already seeing a few early cases this year.