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Otago Meningococcal B campaign goes live today

30 May 2005

Otago Meningococcal B campaign goes live today


The campaign to immunise almost 50,000 babies, children and young people aged up to 20 years against Meningococcal B disease starts in Otago today.

Around 10,000 babies and young children aged from 6 weeks to five years and 9000 school-leavers aged from 16-20 will be immunised through general practices; and 30,000 school-children will be immunised immunised through Otago's first ever school-based vaccination programme.

Each person requires three injections delivered three weeks apart to be fully immunised, which will require up to 150,000 doses of the MeNZB vaccine between today and 31 October.

A Meningococcal B epidemic is in its 15th year in New Zealand. The vaccine, called MeNZB, provides protection against the epidemic strain of meningococcal disease. MeNZB is free, and is safe, having been extensively tested.

The vaccination programme will be delivered through all of Otago's 58 medical practices by GPs and practice nurses; and through Otago's 153 primary, intermediate and secondary schools through the school-based vaccination programme delivered by Public Health South.

Otago meningococcal programme leader Dr Roy Morris said it was a huge undertaking, involving a massive effort by the hundreds of health professionals involved.

'We've been gearing up for the meningococcal B vaccination programme for more than six months,' said Dr Morris. 'This is the biggest public health intervention ever in New Zealand The programme has included a strong public awareness campaign among Maori and Pacific island communities throughout Otago. It is aimed to vaccinate more than 4500 students at Otago University and around 2000 at Otago Polytechnic.

Otago is the first South Island region to roll out the whole programme. Otago is the fifth worst region in New Zealand for meningococcal B.

The programme is being launched today at Dunedin Hospital by Otago District Health Board chairman Richard Thomson and DCC Mayor Peter Chin.

The National Immunisation Register (NIR) is also being launched in Otago today. The NIR is being implemented alongside the Meningococcal vaccination programme and is a computerised information system to record how many children and young people have been immunised and how many doses they have received.

Mr Thomson said today that the campaign is a massive undertaking and logistical exercise and the vaccinators have a huge task ahead of them.

'It is aimed to immunise almost one third of Otago's population and the campaign probably touches around 90% of our households. This is a very important campaign for all our communities,' he said. 'I am very pleased today to launch this impressive programme.'

Mr Chin said the community was behind this important campaign.

'Community is the glue that binds us and the links between our communities are really important at a time like this.

'I am proud that in Otago, local government and the health sector are working side by side on this issue and on many others. The Dunedin City Council is 100% behind this campaign and we will support you however we can through our networks and through spreading the word. Other local bodies throughout Otago are also supporting the campaign,' said Mr Chin.

Dr Morris said that general practices would hold evening and weekend clinics to cope with the increased workload from the vaccination. Parents of children under five who have not already heard from their general practice should make contact to make an appointment, he said.

'Young people under 20 who have left school should make an appointment with their doctor, or student health clinic. If they don't have a local doctor, they can look up the nearest one in the front of the phone book under Registered Medical Practitioners and Medical Centre,' he said.

Also speaking at today's launch is Doreen Latta of South Otago, who lost her son, Vance Latta, to meningococcal disease in 1997. She will deliver a strong message to families who are unsure about taking up the free vaccination.

'Meningitis is not out to take prisoners. It kills. Don't shut off when you see graphic details portrayed through this campaign,' she said. 'They are shown for a reason - to help save lives.

'You now have a choice when being offered with this vaccine. In 1997 there wasn't the opportunity,' said Mrs Latta.

The Meningococcal B vaccination programme is funded by the Ministry of Health and is currently available to anyone aged over six weeks and under 20 years of age.

New Zealand is experiencing an epidemic of Meningococcal B disease. The disease can cause serious and life-long disability, or death.

School students will be offered immunisation at school. Children not attending school, children under five years of age and other young people who have left school will be immunised by their doctor, practice nurse or student health.

Important facts For every 100 people who get Meningococcal disease, on average four will die, 20 will suffer a permanent and serious physical disability and many others will have ongoing behavioural or learning difficulties.

The disease causes more hospitalisations and fatalities than any other notifiable disease in New Zealand.

Since 1991, New Zealand has had an average of about 400 meningococcal disease cases per year.

Before the epidemic began, there were about 50 cases of meningococcal disease per year in New Zealand.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of meningococcal B disease in the developed world, specifically a strain called B:4:P1,7b.4.

The epidemic is expected to last for another six to eight years if there is no vaccine intervention.

Meningococcal disease can affect anyone, but those under 20 years of age are at greatest risk, with children under five years being most at risk


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