Meningococcal Faith or Evidence?
Meningococcal Faith or Evidence?
Ron Law & Barbara Sumner Burstyn
In a press release on the 26 April 2005 the Ministry of Health accused medical researcher Ron Law and writer researcher Barbara Sumner Burstyn of using data from a different strain of meningococcal disease to discredit the MeNZB(tm) vaccine. The Ministry then proceeded to use data from different strains of meningococcal bacteria to support the use of an unproven strain specific vaccine.
The press release from Law and Sumner Burstyn referred to a Canadian report highlighting the fact that a hitherto 'safe and effective' meningococcal vaccine increased the risk of meningococcal disease in under 5 year olds in Canada. The report provides prima facie evidence that when bureaucrats, researchers and drug companies combine to promote relatively untested drugs, objectivity flies out the window. ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/GE0504/S00089.htm) Will we have to wait 12 years for the truth about MeNZB(tm) to emerge too?
The comparisons between the Canadian experience with a meningococcal C vaccine and what is happening in New Zealand with the MeNZB(TM) vaccine are related and the comparison raises serious doubts about the Ministry of Health's MeNZB(tm) vaccine programme.
For example, the Ministry of Health states, "So far this year, up until the week ending 15 April, there had been 65 cases of meningococcal disease and four deaths." While this may be correct the Ministry of Health has, however, used the 'patient confidentiality' section in the Official Information Act to prevent release of meningococcal bacteria case and fatality numbers by type for under twenty year olds in each District Health Boards, thus disabling researchers from verifying epidemic strain figures.
The Ministry then says, "76 percent of all laboratory confirmed cases are for the epidemic strain of the disease which the MeNZB vaccine targets." In a press release last week, the Wellington District Health Board said that 67 percent of cases in their precinct over the past three were due to the epidemic strain. Using data released by the Minister of Health this would suggest that less than 60% of all confirmed cases in the Wellington region this past year were due to the epidemic strain.
We now know that of the five recent cases in the Wellington region, not a single one of them could have been prevented by the MeNZB(tm) vaccination programme, and yet these cases have been used to promote the strain specific MeNZB(tm) vaccine.
Will we learn from the Canadian experience that the worst case scenario is not 'no protection', but rather increased risk to our vulnerable young children?
The Director of the MeNZB(tm) programme said, "New Zealanders can have faith in the MeNZB vaccine." When viewed through the evidence of such things as the conflicts of interest of the main players in the development and deployment of this vaccine, and the apparent conflicts of interest of members of the Independent Safety Monitoring Board this comment of "have faith" does nothing to answer the myriad of unresolved issues posed by the development and implementation of this vaccine.
Other unanswered areas of concern include the new system to assess adverse events designed specially for this vaccine that bypasses all established national and international pharmaco-vigilance practice, the fact that the Director of the MeNZB(tm) programme herself acknowledges that the vaccine has been released without efficacy data, the fact that the MeNZB™ is not a normal vaccine but instead an experimental vaccine, fast tracked under s23 of the Medicines Act (a section designed specifically for experimental medicines) and is approved for restricted use only in a limited number of patients, and the fact that the MOH’s threshold of 10 cases per hundred thousand for introducing a new vaccine has been ignored.
The meningococcal B strain is presently running at a confirmed rate of 4.1 cases per 100,000; barely above the 3 per 100,000 epidemic threshold, and well less than the WHO and MOH's 10 cases per 100,000 level used to justify the use of even proven vaccinations.
We believe that the Ministry of Health should be able to support the MeNZB(tm) mass experiment based on science; and we believe that exhortations to the New Zealand public to 'have faith' are not acceptable substitutes for evidence based science.