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Vaccine and vigilance best chance

22 November 2004

Vaccine and vigilance best chance against meningococcal disease

Two recent cases of the potentially deadly meningococcal disease reinforce the need for children to be immunised but also for families to stay vigilant for symptoms of other strains of the disease, the Ministry of Health said today.

Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme director Jane O’Hallahan said the Ministry of Health has learnt today of another case of meningococcal disease in a young South Auckland child.

To date this year there have been 308 cases of meningococcal disease of which about 76 percent have been the epidemic strain. The others have been caused by other strains of the disease.

“The Ministry of Health is offering free immunisation for all children and young people aged from six months to 20 years to control the epidemic strain of meningococcal B in New Zealand.

“To be fully immunised the person needs to have three doses and then it can take 28 days after the third dose for immunity to fully develop. With any vaccine there is a small proportion of the population who, for a variety of reasons, do not develop full immunity.

“The vaccine is the best protection available against the epidemic strain of the disease. Ideally it would be wonderful to have a vaccine against all meningococcal disease but that is some years off and in the meantime we must offer New Zealanders the best protection we can,” Dr O’Hallahan said.

“However, it is essential for parents to always be vigilant for signs and symptoms of all meningococcal disease. This disease moves very fast and can cause a great deal of misery.

“In these two recent cases we are told both these children are now well and both families need to be congratulated for acting quickly to seek medical help when their child was unwell,” Dr O’Hallahan said.

“Both these children had been immunised with three doses of the vaccine against the epidemic strain of meningococcal B disease.

“We know in both these cases the children became ill in less than the 28 days after the third dose that can be required for immunity to fully develop.

“One of these children definitely did not have the epidemic strain of the disease. The strain of disease in the second case will not be identified until at least later this week.

“It is essential that parents ensure their children do get all three doses of the vaccine and that they seek medical help if their child shows signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease,” Dr O’Hallahan said.

ENDS

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