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Immunise Against Meningococcal Monster

February 15, 2005

Parents Urged To Immunise Against Meningococcal Monster

Western Bay of Plenty parents are being urged to move fast to immunise their children against the life threatening Meningococcal B disease.

The Ministry of Health's free vaccinations against Meningococcal B are now available in this area to all children aged between six months and 20 years old.

Known as MeNZB, the vaccination is the best form of protection against the Meningococcal B disease currently circulating New Zealand in epidemic proportions.

Western Bay Primary Health Organisation chairman and family doctor John Gemming says the Bay of Plenty's infection statistics are high. "The epidemic doesn't seem to be diminishing and this vaccination is our only chance of controlling it."

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection, which causes serious illness, including meningitis – the infection of the membranes covering the brain – and septicaemia, a serious infection of the blood.

Dr Gemming says the scary thing is one in five people carry this dangerous germ in their throats.

"The people who carry meningococcal in their nose and throat don't seem to be effected by it, but they can easily spread it to others and no one can see it coming."

As little as a kiss, or even a cough or sneeze can result in the disease being transferred. Sharing food or drinks and close living conditions also contribute to the rapid spread of meningococcal B.

"For every 100 people that get meningococcal disease, on average, four will die, 20 will suffer permanent and serious physical disabilities and others will have ongoing behavioural or learning difficulties," Dr Gemming says.

A Community Awareness Team has been set up, with the aim of getting 90% of children registered under the Western Bay Primary Health Organisation, vaccinated by July this year.

Kim Skinner is managing the community team project, which is a joint iwi effort between Ngaiterangi and Ngati Ranginui.

Skinner says many parents think they can put off getting the MeNZB vaccination for another day.

"This is not the time to procrastinate. If parents don't move fast to protect their kids against meningococcal B, it will move fast and leave devastation in its trail. I can not stress how important it is to get the vaccination process underway as soon as possible."

To be fully immunised a person needs three doses, administered approximately six weeks apart.

Dr Gemming is aware some people won't immunise their children because they feel MeNZB is unsafe.

"More than half a million doses of MeNZB have already been administered in New Zealand. The effects of the vaccination have been closely monitored and no serious illness has resulted.

"The vaccination is inclined to sting and children may have a sore arm for a couple of days afterward, but compared to the effects of the actual disease, these are minor reactions."

A person with meningococcal disease can deteriorate very quickly – sometimes in less than 24 hours. Dr Gemming says while the threat of death is a very real one, the number of children seriously maimed by meningococcal B is outrageous.

"I strongly urge all parents and caregivers to take their children to the family doctor and get the first round of immunisation today. There is absolutely no time to waste – don't sit and wait for this awful epidemic to find its way into your lives."

ENDS

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