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Cuban Vaccine Development Experts Visit NZ

NEW Zealand health officials met in Auckland this week with representatives of the Cuban Finlay Institute, and SmithKline Beecham to discuss progress on development of a vaccine to help control the New Zealand group B meningococcal disease epidemic.

The Finlay Institute is one of three international vaccine manufacturers New Zealand is liaising with to develop a vaccine to help control the meningococcal epidemic which began in 1991. The other manufacturers are the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Norway; and the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands.

Last year 505 cases of meningococcal disease were reported, including 23 deaths.

Ministry of Health Director of Public Health, Dr Lynne Lane said the meeting this week was very positive and provided further information about the Institute's progress in developing a New Zealand strain-specific vaccine. It also allowed representatives of SmithKline Beecham to explain its role and progress in reviewing vaccine for potential international registration. Planning required for vaccine trials and a vaccine programme were also discussed.

"The Finlay Institute of Cuba is one of three Institutes New Zealand is working with to develop a strain-specific vaccine to help combat the group B meningococcal epidemic were are currently experiencing.

"Cuba has also experienced a group B meningococcal epidemic, but with a different strain, and has successfully controlled the epidemic with a vaccine that they produced. The experience and expertise of the Cubans in managing such an epidemic and developing a meningococcal vaccine, will be extremely useful as we continue the search for suitable vaccines to control the New Zealand epidemic."

Over 40 million doses of the original Cuban vaccine have been used in immunisation programmes in Cuba and several South American countries.

Dr Lane said the discussions with the vaccine institutes are being held in good faith and in confidence. "Unfortunately this means the Ministry's comment on the process and content of these talks are constrained at this stage.

"We are conscious of the need for a suitable vaccine as soon as possible, and we are looking at all options. However, it is still too early to say when a vaccine will be available for trial in New Zealand."

The Ministry of Health is currently working with national and international advisors, including the World Health Organization, to get agreement on the New Zealand meningococcal vaccine strategy and the specific details such as the likely type, location and duration of clinical trials and the vaccine programme, as well as the quantities of vaccine required.

"There are rigorous standards regarding the safety of vaccines that must be met by manufacturers. These requirements must be managed according to international standards. Vaccine safety cannot be compromised."

Dr Lane said the development and eventual trial of a vaccine to fight the serogroup B meningococcal epidemic is one part of the national plan for the prevention and control of meningococcal disease. Other aspects include increased disease surveillance, increasing public and professional awareness of the disease and the need for early diagnosis and early treatment, and the prevention of secondary cases through contact tracing and medication.

"In the meantime, until a vaccine is available for trial and epidemic control in New Zealand, all other methods for managing the disease must be used. Identifying meningococcal disease symptoms at an early stage and seeking immediate treatment are crucial to prevent the spread of the disease and further deaths."

Symptoms include a fever or rash or spots, headaches or vomiting. A child with meningococcal disease may refuse drink or food, vomit and cry or be unsettled.


For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277-5411 Internet address:


Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by a bacterium (germ) Neisseria meningitidis, known as meningococci. It usually affects the membrane around the brain (meningitis) or the blood (blood poisoning). It is a serious disease and can sometimes cause death or permanent disability such as deafness.

Statistics To 29 September 2000, there have been 357 cases of meningococcal disease and 13 deaths. At the same time in 1999, there were 381 cases and 15 deaths.

There were 440 cases and 23 deaths in 1998. The peak year in the epidemic so far was 1997 when 613 cases were notified, including 24 deaths.

Key messages for meningococcal disease

Don't wait - take action: see a doctor if you or your child is sick.

If your child is sick - check often.

Meningococcal disease - early treatment saves lives.

Your child may be seriously ill if they: - have a fever - refuse drinks or feeds - are sleepy or floppy - or harder to wake - vomit - are crying or unsettled - have a rash/spots - have a headache.

Doctor' visits are free for children under six.

Anyone can get meningococcal disease - though those at greatest risk are children under five and young adults.

if your child gets worse - take them straight back to the doctor.

Further Information can also be obtained from the Ministry of Health website


Selina Gentry Media Liason Communications DDI: 496 2483 Fax: 496 2010 Ministry of Health

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