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Timing update on Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy

Timing update on Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy

The Ministry of Health today updated progress of the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy project.

All aspects of the project continue to run smoothly, however the licensure process of the MeNZB? vaccine is taking longer than the current expectations, said Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy Director Dr Jane O?Hallahan. Consequently, this affects the earliest date that the proposed group B meningococcal disease immunisation programme could begin.

The MeNZB? vaccine has been developed to give protection from the specific strain of group B meningococcal disease that has occurred at epidemic levels in New Zealand since 1991.

The Ministry of Health and Counties-Manukau District Health Board had been working closely to plan a launch of the proposed immunisation programme in late May 2004. This timeframe is being reviewed.

?Everything that can be done, is being done,? said Dr O?Hallahan. ?It is disappointing that we cannot proceed further just yet, but the nature and scale of this project means that all timeframes are subject to change. We have always had to plan with flexibility so that we can respond to the unique challenges of developing a vaccine to control an epidemic.

?I am confident that Medsafe is treating the assessment of MeNZB? vaccine as a priority. Until all the necessary evaluation is complete, project teams at the Ministry of Health and Counties-Manukau DHB will continue to work at speed for the earliest possible start of the proposed immunisation programme,? said Dr O?Hallahan.

Dr O?Hallahan also reminded the public to stay vigilant for the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease. Rates of meningococcal disease continue to be at high levels and the disease?s peak season is approaching.

?Meningococcal B disease continues to strike young New Zealanders seemingly at random. More than 5000 families have now had to cope with the stress and shock of coping with a family member die or be maimed by this horrible disease. Be aware of the warning signs and seek medical attention urgently if someone is sick,? Dr O?Hallahan urged.

Background Q & A

What is the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy? The MVS project is led by the Ministry of Health and seeks to develop a strain-specific vaccine to control the epidemic of group B meningococcal disease in New Zealand. Pending regulatory approval, a nationwide immunisation programme of MeNZB? would begin. The Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy is one of the country?s largest public health projects.

What does the timing update mean for the public? As the best chance of bringing the meningococcal B epidemic to an end, there is an understandable level of public interest in the progress of the MeNZB?. However, until such time as the vaccine is licensed for use, the timing update is of most interest to the District Health Boards and health professionals involved in planning the first stage of the proposed immunisation programme. The public should continue to be alert for the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek medical attention if someone is sick. Further information about the proposed immunisation programme will be available as soon as possible.

Does this put the proposed immunisation programme project in doubt? No. Project teams at the Ministry of Health and Counties-Manukau District Health Board will continue to plan for the earliest possible start of the proposed immunisation programme.

When will the Ministry of Health know if the immunisation programme is going ahead or not? The Ministry of Health will make further announcements as soon as possible.

How does this timing update affect planning of the proposed immunisation programme? The first stage of the proposed immunisation programme would begin with a school-based campaign in the Counties Manukau District Health Board area and some suburbs within Auckland District Health Board. Project teams and the Public Health Unit have already begun planning with schools and health professionals, so that the programme could begin as soon as possible. Some aspects of this planning, such as dates booked into school calendars, will be reviewed and rescheduled, as appropriate.

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