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UK Expert Supports Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy

Media Release

30 August 2001

UK Expert Supports New Zealand's Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy

A PROMINENT British expert has endorsed New Zealand's approach in trying to develop a vaccine to combat the epidemic of group B meningococcal disease.

Dr David Salisbury, is the Principal Medical Officer for the United Kingdom Department of Health and was Medical Advisor for the Meningococcal Vaccination Campaign to combat a significant increase in cases of group C meningococcal disease in the UK in the 1990's.

He is currently visiting New Zealand at the request of the Ministry of Health, to provide feedback and advice following his experience as Medical Advisor of the Meningococcal C Campaign in the United Kingdom. The campaign included a rolling national vaccination programme that targeted 15 million people under the age of 18.

New Zealand is currently in the 11th year of an epidemic of meningococcal B disease, and it is expected to continue for a further 10 years. From January 1991 to 24 August 2001 there have been 3933 New Zealanders diagnosed with meningococcal B disease and 177 people have died.

The year 1997 recorded the highest incidence over a 12 month period, however statistics this year to date show a further increase in reports of meningococcal disease with an increasing number of deaths. For the year to 24 August, 381 New Zealanders have been diagnosed with the disease and 19 have died. This compares to 283 cases and 11 deaths at the same time last year.

Dr Salisbury said when compared to the UK group C meningococcal situation, the New Zealand group B meningococcal epidemic had different issues which needed to be considered.

"The UK experienced an increase in group C meningococcal disease, which could be controlled through a vaccine targeting this particular strain. Group C vaccine has been licenced in the UK and several other countries. However, the group B vaccine, which is being developed for New Zealand, needs to be assessed for licensure. This means it will take longer before the vaccine can be introduced into New Zealand.

"New Zealand is positioned now, having signed a contract for vaccine development with Chiron Corporation. However it is vital that New Zealand continue to build public and professional awareness of this disease and also encourage early intervention, diagnosis and treatment. This disease can result in limb amputations, blindness and brain damage. The earlier people seek treatment, the greater chance there is of a better outcome."

Dr Salisbury said the requirement for all GPs in New Zealand to notify a Medical Officer of Health of any cases of meningococcal disease was also crucial.

"This allows health experts to trace anyone who may have been in contact with a person with the disease and give them antibiotics. The notification system also allows us to find out, in cases where people require hospitalisation, how many received antibiotics before they were admitted, which is a key factor in managing the disease."

Dr Salisbury said once a vaccine had been developed and tested to ensure it complied with national and international guidelines for safety, vaccination would provide the best form of protection.

"Immunisation is a powerful weapon in the fight to protect children from common communicable diseases. The benefits far outweight the risks, particularly when you see the harm and irreparable damage that these diseases can have on the lives of young children who have not been vaccinated."

For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277 5411 http://www.moh.govt.nz/media.html


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