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Countdown on until first immunisations given

18 March 2005

Countdown on until first immunisations given in Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay’s pre-schoolers and school-leavers have only a few days to wait before the meningococcal B vaccine is available in Hawke’s Bay. The first vaccinations are scheduled to take place from Monday 21 March 2005.

Around 15,000 preschoolers aged six months to four years and school leavers aged up to 19 years are eligible to receive the free vaccine available from GP practices throughout Hawke’s Bay.

To gain maximum protection from this disease, young people should have three vaccinations (by injection) spaced around six weeks apart.

Hawke’s Bay paediatrician, Dr David Barry, said he had been very impressed with the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

“No serious side effects have been recorded – temporary redness, pain or swelling where the injection was given are common, and generally last only a few days…however, side effects from meningococcal disease can last a lifetime,” David Barry said.

Dr Barry is chair of a Clinical Review Committee which is advisory to the Independent Safety Monitoring Board (ISMB) an independent international committee established to monitor the safety of the MeNZB™ vaccine. Members of the Independent Safety Monitoring Board are from the United States and Australia as well as NZ.

“The clinical trials showed that the vaccine dose generated antibodies to provide protection against the epidemic strain of meningococcal disease, which is a New Zealand-specific sub-type of meningococcal B disease. He said the ISMB is charged with advising the government on the on-going effectiveness of the vaccine. “With well over 500,000 doses given, the Independent Safety Monitoring Board has no concerns in relation to the safety of MeNZB™ vaccine,” Dr Barry said.

“Around 75% of all cases of meningococcal disease in New Zealand are the epidemic strain, so this vaccine can’t come soon enough. The rate of disease is New Zealand is still more than three times the rates considered an epidemic by the World Health Organisation.

“One in every 66 Pacific children, one in every 117 Maori children and one in every 438 children of European or other ethnicity will get meningococcal disease by the time they turn five-years-old,” he said.

Dr Barry said while the vaccine was new to New Zealand, the ‘parent’ vaccine developed overseas has been in use for over 20 years, with a good safety record. “Put simply this vaccine has been modified to ensure it provides protection against our own specific strain of meningococcal disease. We’ve been able to benefit from the experience of 20 years overseas usage data.

Dr Barry stressed that meningococcal disease did not discriminate. There’s a common misconception that this disease just affects Maori and Pacific Island families, I can tell you from personal experience, this isn’t the case. All parents should remain on the lookout for signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease. It’s important to remember that children and babies may present with just one or two of the symptoms – the spots or rash don’t usually show up until the disease progresses.

Signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease can include:

In babies: a fever, be crying or unsettled, refuse drinks or feeds, vomit, be sleepy, floppy or harder to wake, dislike bright lights, have a rash or spots.

An adult or older child may: have a fever or headache, stiff neck, joint pain or aching muscles, vomit, be sleepy, confused, delirious or unconscious, dislike bright lights, have a rash or spots.

“Meningococcal disease is a fast-moving killer, and I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking medical advice as soon as you think something’s wrong – don’t wait – ring a doctor, hospital or medical centre for advice, no matter what time of the day or night. It can be difficult to diagnose, so go back to your doctor if you think things are getting worse,” Dr Barry said.

“This vaccine is free, safe and effective, and I encourage any parent or caregiver of under 20 year olds to say ‘Yes’ to the vaccine when the consent form comes home from school, or when your GP asks whether your child will be getting protected with the MeNZB™ vaccine,” Dr Barry said.

All school-age children will be offered the MeNZB vaccination at school, where teams of public health nurses will be visiting schools from 4 April onwards to vaccinate around 30,000 Hawke’s Bay children and young people.


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