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Development Of Meningococcal Vaccine

Progress Continues Towards Development Of Meningococcal Vaccine

Consideration is being given to working with one preferred manufacturer to develop a vaccine to help combat the sero-group B meningococcal epidemic in New Zealand.

New Zealand has had an epidemic since 1991 and to date, has been working with three vaccine manufacturers - the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) from Norway, the Finlay Institute, of Cuba, and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) from the Netherlands.

Ministry of Health Director Public Health Dr Lynne Lane said a great deal of effort had been made by all three manufacturers towards developing a vaccine for New Zealand, and while vaccine development takes time, young children are still dying from the disease.

"There are international standards regarding vaccine development and we are well aware that development of these products takes time. However we also want to ensure all options are considered so we can have a vaccine available in New Zealand as soon as possible.

"One of the options we are currently considering is whether it would be preferable to work with one manufacturer, rather than all three.

"We are yet to meet with all three manufacturers to determine if this is the best approach, and discussions also need to be held with our technical advisory group, however we are hopeful that we will be able to make a recommendation within the next few months.

Dr Lane said that while a recommendation outlining the way forward was close, it was still too early to say when a vaccine would be available for trial in New Zealand.

"The international standards for vaccine development means that progress is very much in the hands of the scientific and manufacturing processes in place in the three countries that are helping us."

She said that 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.

"Until we have a vaccine in New Zealand, the best advice to the public regarding meningococcal is "don't wait - take action."

"Meningococcal disease can cause two very serious illnesses, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and meningitis (an infection of the brain membranes). Prompt treatment with antibiotics, usually by injection, can prevent death or permanent disability such as brain damage or deafness.

"Meningococcal disease can look like a case of the flu in the early stages, but the patient's condition will rapidly deteriorate. It's important that people who are showing symptom, or parents or caregivers with a child who is very sick with a fever should seek immediate advice from a doctor."

Symptoms of meningococcal disease 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.

END


BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by a bacterium (germ) Neisseria meningitidis, known as a meningococcus. 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.

Development of a vaccine strategy is one part of the national plan for the prevention and control of meningococcal disease. Other aspects of the national plan 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.

Statistics Since 1 January 1991 - 31 August 2000 a total of 3368 cases of all groups of meningococcal disease have been notified - many of them sero-group B cases. Last year 505 cases of meningococcal disease were reported, including 23 deaths.

For the year to date from 1 January 2000 - 27 October 2000, there have been 400 cases of meningococcal disease and 15 deaths. At the same time in 1999, there were 420 cases and 20 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.

END

Selina Gentry Media Liaison Communications DDI: 496 2483 Fax: 496 2010 mailto:selina_gentry@moh.govt.nz Ministry of Health


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