A record number of New Zealanders have received the flu vaccine this year, with over 587,000 already administered so far.
Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter says this number is nearly twice as high as this time last year, where 290,000 people had been vaccinated.
"This year we started the flu jab season early, distributed hundreds of thousands more vaccines and doubled the number of people vaccinated this year compared to this time last year," Genter says.
"Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, the vaccination programme rollout has been a success in terms of the number of at-risk people already vaccinated."
She says doctors, nurses and pharmacies have done extraordinary work in administering vaccines so early in the year.
Monday marks the end of flu vaccines being restricted to priority groups only.
Vaccines were distributed earlier than usual and restricted to certain groups to help maintain the capacity of the healthcare system in case COVID-19 cases were higher, Genter says.
"FluTracker has recorded lower levels of flu-like illness this year compared to normal, which indicates both the success of the alert level 4 lockdown and the vaccine rollout.
"We know there is high demand for the vaccine this year. In addition to stock already in the community, we are releasing further stocks of vaccines this week. According to our records, there are nearly 700,000 vaccine doses across the country that have not yet been recorded as administered."
Genter asks all essential workers who are still at work, such as supermarket workers, to get the flu vaccine.
She says while Pharmac is getting additional stocks and there are more doses than ever before, there isn't an infinite supply.
"Let’s continue to look after each other by making sure we get flu vaccines to those who need them most.
"Young and healthy people are at low risk because of the precautions we are taking already against COVID-19, such as working from home and practicing social distancing. Please leave the remaining stock to those who need it most, the vulnerable and those essential workers and others back at the job under level 3."
Genter encourages New Zealanders to get in contact with their GP or pharmacist by ringing ahead to book a vaccination appointment.
Although the flu vaccine doesn't protect against COVID-19, she says it helps to keep fewer people away from hospital so there's more capacity to treat those who have the virus.