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Minister Sexed Up Meningococcal B Stats

Press Release
Ron Law
Risk & Policy Analyst
Beyond Alternative Solutions

Minister Sexed Up Meningococcal B Stats

''It is puzzling that the Minister of Health sexed up the number of cases of meningococcal disease in Parliament yesterday,'' says risk & policy analyst Ron Law.

In response to a question in the House of Parliament yesterday, the Minister of Health made the statement, "There were around 50 confirmed or suspected cases in 1990, before the epidemic began; today there are over 500."

According to official reports released by the ESR, there have been 377 cases notified during the period 12 month ending September 2004, and according to the Ministry of Health website, there have been 365 cases in the 12 months up until October 8 2004.

Based on those figures, this means that the figures quoted by the Minister have been inflated by at least 32%.

This sexing up of the number of cases is a puzzle given that a few moments later, in the House, the Minister agreed with the statement that "that people in the public eye and media should not resort to emotive claims."

What is even more puzzling is the fact that the Minister still uses total meningococcal cases notified to support a mass experiment of an essentially untested drug.

The experimental MeNZB vaccine only targets one of a number of meningococcal strains contributing to the so-called epidemic.

In May, the Mistery of Health released a summary of the epidemiology of meningococcal disease in New Zealand in 2003 which noted that fewer than 40% of deaths are actually caused by the MeNZB strain of the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, that causes meningococcal disease.

Further more, the 2002 annual report on the epidemiology of meningococcal disease in New Zealand acknowledges that the number of cases falsely reported could be as high as 26% and as low as 10%. This would reduce the number of cases in the past 12 months to between 280 and 333

Applying the Minister's own researchers' and advisors' estimates, the Minister's figure quoted in parliament is sexed up by between 50 per cent and 78 percent for total cases.

Given that only c75% of cases of meningococcal disease are caused by the MeNZB strain, the figures presented by the Minister were sexed up by a factor of between 100% and 137% compared to the actual number of MeNZB strain cases occurring during the past year.

It is unfair and scientifically indefensible for the Minister to use total meningococcal disease cases to justify a mass experiment of an essentially untested experimental drug.

"New Zealanders deserve an honest debate of the evidence, not one based on pseudo-science, hyperbole, and attenuated statistics," says Ron Law.

The attached graph provides further evidence that the Minister's statement "There is no evidence of the Meningococcal Disease Epidemic Abating," is at odds with the facts.

"If the MeNZB vaccine had been introduced 2 years ago these exact figures would be trumpeted as proof that the vaccine had worked,"says Ron Law.

The Norwegian vaccine, which was properly tested on 88,000 teenagers, and compared with placebo given to another 80,000 teenagers, was deemed not to be effective enough for a mass vaccination program and was not licensed.

The evidence from these trials is the same evidence used by officials, researchers, and advisers in New Zealand to gain fast-track approval under a section in the Medicines Act designed for limited and tightly controlled use.

Yesterday, the Minister said, "A decision was taken by them [Norway] based on the evidence they have. It didn't stack up (in) terms of cost benefit so they did not continue with it."

The simple fact is that, as published in the medical journal, The Lancet in 1991, they didn't proceed with mass vaccination, [nor did they license the drug] because it wasn't effective enough... even without a cost benefit study.

Given the facts, the Government needs to undertake an urgent and independent cost-benefit analysis. Such an analysis is likely to come to the same conclusion as Norway did, and as Treasury concluded prior to approval of the vaccine; the figures simply don't stack up.

Public Health policies should not be based on spin-doctored fear; especially when it means that 1.15 million healthy children will be vaccinated with an experimental drug.

"There needs to be an Royal Commission of Inquiry into the pseudo-science being used to generate mass fear, thereby creating demand by concerned parents for an experimental drug." says Ron Law.

Conflict of Interest:

Ron Law was appointed by the Ministry of Health to an expert working group to advise it on the management and reporting of medical injury in the health system.

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