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First quarter million doses given

8 November 2004

First quarter million doses given in Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme

The first quarter million vaccine doses have been given in the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme.

Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy Director Jane O'Hallahan said today that the first 250,000 doses is another significant milestone especially coupled with the excellent safety monitoring results released last month.

This is great news. We are delighted with the programme to date. An increasing number of parents are vaccinating their children against meningococcal disease despite the efforts of a small number of people who oppose any form of vaccination and who are trying to undermine the programme.

It is imperative if we are to control this fearsome disease that the public is presented with the facts and not fallacies and misinformation promulgated by a small group of activists with an anti-immunisation agenda.

The facts are that this disease can kill or disfigure its victims. The MeNZB vaccine is showing itself to be safe and is the best protection we can offer New Zealanders during a time when the disease is at epidemic proportions, Dr O'Hallahan said.

Yes, some children may cry or suffer temporary effects when they receive the injection but they will suffer for a lot longer if they get the disease.

Doctors and vaccinators are encouraged to report reactions and, even after this encouragement, the number of reports of adverse events is lower than expected.

This month also marked the launch of the programme in three new district health boards, Auckland, Waitemata and Northland. Doctors and nurses in these DHBs start immunising this month, focusing on the under five-year-olds who are at most risk of contracting meningococcal disease.

Up until November the vaccine was only available in the Counties Manukau DHB and the eastern corridor of Auckland DHB.

This expansion of the immunisation programme is extremely important because it means more babies and children aged under five in the greater Auckland and Northland region can get the protection offered by the vaccine in these other high risk areas,Dr O'Hallahan said.

Maori participation in the programme, which was slower to start, is also showing excellent progress with a great deal of effort and hard work by doctors and nurses in the Counties Manukau region paying off.

Health professionals have gone out into the community and talked with Maori about the disease and the vaccine. They have then made it possible for Maori to receive the vaccine. Sometimes it's things like opening on Saturday mornings that make a difference to coverage because parents are working during the week and cannot take their children to the doctor or nurse.

We all have to think how can we make it as easy as possible for people to access the vaccine. Parents are under so many pressures it's sometimes very difficult to make that extra effort to take a well child to the doctor even though those same parents want their children immunised, Dr O'Hallahan said.

As well as the hard work on the ground, the Ministry's own work in developing the new National Immunisation Register (NIR) is making a real difference to the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme. The NIR enables tracking to show how many people have had the vaccine and their age and ethnicity.

The NIR has been a dream of public health professionals for many years and it is exciting to have it up and running and giving us vital information that lets us put the effort in where it is most needed,Dr O'Hallahan said.

ENDS

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