Updated vaccine coming for NZ after deadly 'Aussie Flu' hits Northern Hemisphere

A deadly strain of the flu has been killing people in the United States and Europe and health officials here are gearing up in case it heads to our shores. 

Around 400 people every year in New Zealand die from the flu, or complications with it. 

Authorities have upgraded the flu vaccine to try and fight the new fatal strain, but they don't know yet whether it'll work. 

"It is very likely that this strain will come to New Zealand. We're a global community, the flu virus loves to travel," said Dr Nikki Turner, from New Zealand's Immunisation Advisory Centre.

The life-threatening flu strain is A (H3N2), which has been nicknamed Aussie Flu. 

Last winter around 230,000 Australians were sick with it, and it killed nearly 750 people.  

It spread to other countries, and it has so far killed 191 people in Britain and is killing around 100 Americans each week.  

It's the worst outbreak in the US in nearly a decade.

Health authorities are blaming an ineffective vaccine for the rise in flu cases and deaths overseas.  

"Viruses tend to change all the time so you have to catch up with them. So a lot of the time we get it right, and we get good response to the vaccine, and every now and then the virus changes a bit quicker, a bit more than we expected and we're behind the eight ball," Dr Turner said.

In New Zealand, an updated vaccine will be available from late March. 

In theory it should protect us, but sudden mutations can cause complications. 

"We're hoping that if this is the right vaccine strain, then it should match well. There's no guarantee until you see it arriving in the country." 

Health officials in New Zealand are now meeting to plan for a surge in flu cases as we head into winter. 

By Arrun Soma

Health officials in NZ are gearing up, upgrading the flu vaccine, but they don't yet know if it will work. Source: 1 NEWS

Green Party's medicinal cannabis Bill voted down in Parliament

The Green Party's medicinal cannabis Bill that was introduced by Chloe Swarbrick into Parliament today has not passed its first reading, suffering a substantial loss in the voting tonight.

The vote wasn't a close one with only 47 MPs voting for the Bill and 73 against.

Earlier today Ms Swarbrick gave an impassioned speech in support of her Bill, referencing personal stories of those suffering from illnesses that find relief from medicinal cannabis and also calling for cross party support.

She said the government has a "moral obligation" to New Zealanders to pass the Bill and help end people's suffering.

National MP and former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman spoke directly after Ms Swarbrick and was strongly opposed to the Bill, calling it "decriminalisation by stealth".

A watered down medicinal cannabis Bill was introduced by Labour yesterday. The Bill passed its vote and will head to a select committee.


'Batten down the hatches' – intense low brings heavy rain and gale warnings for much of the country

An intense low is set to barrel directly into the West Coast of the South Island tomorrow morning, bringing heavy rain and gale warnings for much of the country.

TVNZ weather presenter Dan Corbett is warning Kiwis to "batten down the hatches" ahead of the potentially damaging storm which is formed by the remnants of ex-Tropical Cyclone Fehi.

The wild weather could see up to 400mm of rain falling in the ranges of the West Coast and winds of up to 130km/h hitting South Taranaki, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, Westland and Buller.

Check the forecast in your region on the 1 NEWS NOW weather page

Corbett says the worst of the weather is set to cross over the country around late morning but there will be a sting in the tail from a second low forming to the east of the South Island that will bring more heavy rain to the Canterbury region.

Nelson Civil Defence has issued a warning for the area which is set to be significantly impacted by the storm.

"We expect 3-5 metre waves around the Nelson City area, plus king tides around midday Thursday and midnight Thursday.

"With the low pressure from this system and the wind piling the sea into the head of Tasman Bay, sea level could be elevated up to a metre above predicted tide levels in Tasman Bay," a spokesperson said.

A similar warning has been issued further north in Tauranga where the local council is warning of potential flooding from heavy rain coupled with king tides.

The Grey District Council have already announced a road closure in the West Coast region as they anticipate high seas to impact the road to Jellyman Park in Cobden.

The storm is expected to clear the country by midday Friday leaving fine weather and cooler temperatures in its wake.

TVNZ weather presenter Dan Corbett has the latest on the storm set to strike tomorrow. Source: 1 NEWS