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Spot the Meningococcal Mistakes At HBDHB

Monday, 18 April 2005,
Press Release: Barbara Sumner Burstyn, Ron Law

Spot the Meningococcal Mistakes: Hawkes Bay District Health Board Gets It Very Wrong

Ron Law, Risk & Policy Analyst
Barbara Sumner Burstyn, Free-lance writer/columnist

The Hawkes Bay District Health Board recently posted two information sheets on their website.

WHAT IS MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE? (Septicaemia and Meningitis)

Countdown on until first immunisations given in Hawke's Bay

These documents are riddled with errors and cast serious doubt on the competency of the Board.

Please find following a list of grossly inaccurate statements made by the Hawkes Bay District Health Board.

HBDHB Statement: Meningococcal Disease can be caused by many types of bacteria or viruses.

Fact: Meningococcal disease is ONLY caused by various types of neisseria meningitidis, certainly not 'many types of bacteria' and absolutely not viruses.

HBDHB Statement: Meningococcal Disease is becoming more common than in past years and can be serious.

Fact: The evidence shows that it is becoming less common - not more common as stated. (1)

HBDHB Statement: Viral meningitis is generally more common than bacterial, but usually not as serious. It cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Fact: Viral meningitis is NOT meningococcal disease.

HBDHB Statement: No vaccine is available for one of the common types of Meningococcal Disease - Meningococcal Type B.

Fact: Then what is the MeNZB™ vaccine?

HBDHB Statement: For the most common cause of Meningococcal Disease in young children, Haemophilus influenzae b, a vaccine is available.

Fact: Haemophilus influenzae b does NOT cause meningococcal disease - never has, never will.

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

Fact: There is no data on either efficacy or effectiveness. Dr Barry's impression is based on pseudo-science. (2)

HBDHB Statement: "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.

Fact: Serious side effects have been recorded including anaphylaxis, guallian barré syndrome and possibly deaths.

HBDHB Statement: 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.

Fact: If this is the case then Dr Barry would have made the previous HBDHB Statement knowing that it was false.

HBDHB Statement: "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.

Fact: The clinical trials did not demonstrate protection at all... they demonstrated an immune response in 75% of older children and 55% of 6 - 10 week old babies. This has not been shown to correlate to protection. This acknowledged by the Minister's expert Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee and is evidenced by the Counties-Manukau situation.(2) If this vaccine is working where is the accelerated decline?

HBDHB Statement: Dr Barry said the ISMB is charged with advising the government on the on-going effectiveness of the vaccine.

Fact: It is a Safety Monitoring Board, not an Effectiveness Monitoring Board. Hence this is a false and misleading statement.

HBDHB Statement: "Around 75% of all cases of meningococcal disease in New Zealand are the epidemic strain,

Fact: Dr Barry should have said 'around 75% of confirmed cases.' In fact only 48% of all cases have been confirmed as being of the epidemic strain.

HBDHB Statement: "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.

Fact: This is based on data from 2001 and extrapolated for five years... there has been a 50% decline in case numbers since then, and a 75% decline in deaths due to the epidemic strain. (3)

HBDHB Statement: 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.

Fact: The so-called "parent" vaccine was never licensed for use in Norway... it was not licensed in 1990/91 when the trial results showed that it was not effective enough. It is still not licensed.

HBDHB Statement: "Put simply this vaccine has been modified to ensure it provides protection against our own specific strain of meningococcal disease.

Fact: Even the Minister's expert committee acknowledged that there was no evidence that the vaccine would work... Dr Barry's use of the words "to ensure it provides protection" is wishful thinking and not evidence based.

HBDHB Statement: "This vaccine is free, safe and effective,

Fact: The vaccine is free to the individual but the cost to the taxpayer is over $200 million. The jury is still out as to whether it is safe and/or effective.



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