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Epidemic of meningococcal disease continues

9 November 2004

Epidemic of meningococcal disease continues

The epidemic of meningococcal disease continues in New Zealand, despite claims made by anti-immunisation campaigners.

The Ministry welcomes open and well-informed debate and decision making about vaccination. However, debate and decisions must be based on facts and evidence and not on fear or flawed analysis.

As the following graph shows, while cases of meningococcal disease have declined over past years, the epidemic quite clearly continues. Provisional figures for this year are 303 cases of meningococcal disease and six deaths. The epidemic strain of meningococcal disease that is targeted by MeNZBTM vaccine caused 75% of these cases. A previous decline in the number of cases was not sustained. Experience from overseas indicates that without vaccination, the epidemic could continue ― with disease rates varying up and down before waning naturally. This could take another 10 years.

The Ministry of Health is delighted by the lower meningococcal disease rates this year but the rate of disease remains well above epidemic levels and well above levels that justify a vaccination programme. The lower rate of meningococcal disease this year matches a lower rate of associated respiratory diseases such as influenza and is attributed to relatively mild winter weather conditions.

The Ministry agrees with a recent statement by immunisation critic Ron Law, that: "New Zealanders deserve an honest debate of the evidence, not one based on pseudo-science, hyperbole, and attenuated statistics."

Unfortunately Mr Law appears to be using flawed analysis and “attenuated statistics” to support an anti-immunisation viewpoint. The full set of evidence does not support his claims. Mr Law has been provided with a complete set of data about the meningococcal epidemic in New Zealand but he is not an epidemiologist with expertise interpreting and analysing such data.

The Ministry of Health cannot ignore 5,593 cases of meningococcal disease and 219 deaths since the epidemic started. The Ministry of Health cannot ignore the proven continued existence of the epidemic.

MeNZBTM vaccine is the best protection available to control the current epidemic of group B meningococcal disease. The overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence ― collected and rigorously analysed by well-qualified experts from all around the world ― supports the efficacy and safety of vaccines, including the efficacy and safety of MeNZB vaccine.

Mr Law has repeatedly made incorrect and erroneous public statements about immunisation and the meningococcal disease epidemic. His most recent statement repeats errors he has made in the past.

The opinions promoted by immunisation critics fly in the face of the facts about the epidemic and fly in the face of an overwhelming balance of evidence that vaccines prevent disease and save lives.

Dr Jane O’Hallahan Director, Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme


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