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Time running out to get immunised

22 February 2006

Time running out for 5 to 19 year-olds to get immunised against MeNZB

Young people aged five to 19 years who haven't yet had any of their meningococcal B vaccinations should aim to start these by 1 March in order to complete all three by the June 30 cut-off.

“The mass immunisation programme ends on 30 June. Because young people need three doses six weeks apart, ideally they need to start their doses by 1 March," said Dr Roy Morris, Otago meningococcal B campaign sponsor.

Though the mass campaign ends 30 June, the vaccine will still be available for 'mop up' vaccinations for this age group until the end of December.

With winter coming Dr Morris said under-fives should also aim to complete their three doses by June 30.

"That's because this age group is at increased risk of meningococcal disease, particularly during the winter season, so the sooner they are vaccinated the sooner immunity can develop," he said.

Children need to complete all their doses to get the best protection from this disease. The vaccine will remain available to the under-five age group until further notice, and newborns will be routinely offered MeNZB alongside their scheduled childhood immunisations.

Young babies who have their first dose before they are six months old need four doses to build sufficient antibody protection. Older children need only three doses.

The Otago campaign team is offering an outreach service which can be accessed by GP services, Plunket, Maori and other health providers, or by any service which deals with children aged to five years who are overdue for immunisation or who haven't been immunised. Family and whänau may also access this service by phoning 0800 23 32 44.

Outreach work is the tail end of the MeNZB campaign where nurses and health providers go right into the community. With the end of the school-based phase of the campaign, the Otago campaign team are tracking down children who didn’t start or complete their three doses through school. Also on the list of referrals are under-fives and school leavers under 20 that general practices haven’t been able to contact.

There are many reasons why children don’t get immunised or don't complete their doses, said Dr Morris. “We're very geographically-challenged here. Some people have no phone or transport. We’re also a very mobile population with a large student population.”

Dr Morris said the decision around immunising is hard for some families. He said the Otago team tries to make the process as easy as possible. That means some families are able to opt to receive their vaccinations at home rather than by visiting a health centre.

The focus for the campaign in February has been the University of Otago’s Orientation Week in the week of 20-24 February. Vaccinations are being delivered from a tent in the Student Union area each day between 10.30am and 2.30pm.

Dr Roy Morris said new and returning students were an important target group as many may not yet have started their meningococcal B doses.

“Young people in the 18/19 year old age group do not always have a regular doctor, are not always able to be reached during a mass advertising campaign and do not always see the GP as the place to receive the meningococcal B vaccination,” he said. “We hope orientation is a good time to reach these young people as they will be enrolling at university and Polytech and will be receiving information on a range of issues.”

ENDS

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