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Meningococcal B Immunisation exceeds targets

14 December 2004

Meningococcal B Immunisation exceeds own high targets

Results released today show an overwhelming response by people in Counties Manukau to the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme.

Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy director Jane O'Hallahan said 90 percent children living in the Counties Manukau District Health Board and eastern suburbs of Auckland District Health Board, aged between six months and five years, had now received their first dose of the vaccine.

The results for school students are equally impressive, with more than 90 percent having received dose one, Dr O' Hallahan said.

This is tremendous news. It is the result of extraordinary efforts on the behalf of parents and caregivers and hard work by nurses, doctors and teachers. We always knew we were aiming high but people have responded.

The immunisation programme requires three doses of the vaccine.

Coverage for Pacific children, who are at the highest risk of contracting the disease, showed more than 80 percent of pre-school children had already received dose two.

Maori coverage was also tracking to exceed any previous coverage for any immunisation programme in modern times, with more than 80 percent of Maori pre-school children now having had dose one, she said.

In total, more than 350,000 doses of the vaccine had been given in the immunisation programme which aims to control the epidemic of group B meningococcal disease in New Zealand.

We know that at this busy time of year it is difficult to get children to a doctor or nurse for immunisations, but we urge people to ensure their children get their second and third dose or if they have not yet started to do so as soon as possible.

Every nurse, doctor, general practice, Primary Health Organisation and District Health Board involved knows these are early days in the programme. All the work that has gone into these results must be repeated over and over to ensure as many young people as possible get all three doses. However, these early milestones are well worth celebrating, Dr O'Hallahan said.

Minister of Health Annette King welcomed the news. She said she was delighted not only by the figures but also by the real life stories of families who knew the fear and devastation of the disease and had shown a determination to get their children immunised.

"The new National Immunisation Register (NIR) is making it possible to track coverage in the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme in a way never done before.

The NIR shows how many people have had the vaccine and their age and ethnicity. This will be a powerful tool in guiding the District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations so they can use their resources effectively to follow those who have missed the vaccine, to see if they want to be immunised, Ms King said.

The MeNZBTM vaccine offers protection against the epidemic strain of meningococcal disease in New Zealand and requires three doses, each one about six weeks apart. Immunity develops in most people up to 28 days after the third dose.

The epidemic strain currently accounts for about 76 percent of meningococcal cases in New Zealand. No vaccine is available that protects against all strains of meningococcal disease so everyone should always be watchful for signs of the disease.

The immunisation programme began in Counties Manukau in July this year and in November was rolled out to the rest of Auckland and Northland. During the next six months, the vaccine will be made available in a staggered roll out to the rest of the country as part of the biggest ever, mass immunisation programme in New Zealand.

So far this year, 328 people have contracted meningococcal disease and eight people have died. In total since the epidemic began in 1991, 5621 people have contracted meningococcal disease and 224 have died. Many more have been left with life long disabilities.

ENDS

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