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Immunisation Programme success recognised

Media Release
15 June 2006

Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme success recognised

The mass immunisation programme launched to fight New Zealand's meningococcal B epidemic is set to be a real success, says Dr Jane O'Hallahan, Director of the Ministry of Health's Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy.

"In the Northern region where vaccinating started there has already been a 76 per cent drop in cases of epidemic strain meningococcal disease when you compare 2003 and 2005 figures."

Dr O'Hallahan will be presenting key results of the programme at a special wrap-up session being held in Wellington tomorrow (subs: June 16).

Around 150 health staff from around the country who were involved in the programme are expected to attend. Other speakers at the Ministry of Health-organised forum will give presentations on the lessons learned from mounting such a major public health campaign.

The mass vaccination phase of the Programme officially ends June 30.

"This was a highly ambitious programme that presented us with huge challenges right from the start - from developing a suitable vaccine through to establishing the infrastructure necessary to safely deliver it to so many people," says Dr O'Hallahan. "The roll-out of the Programme two years ago was the result of a tremendous amount of work that had already been underway for over a decade."

Since mass vaccinating started there had been a sharp reduction in case numbers of the epidemic strain, particularly in South Auckland where the Programme began, she said.

"Hospital staff in South Auckland describe as 'infrequent' the numbers of children now presenting to emergency departments with meningococal disease. This compares with just a few years ago when they were dealing with three or four cases a week."

Dr David Barry, Chairman of the Clinical Review Committee, says one of the reasons for public confidence - and therefore the success of the Programme - was because of the huge emphasis placed on safety.

"This was a superbly-run programme. It was well-organised, met international standards, and had international input," said Dr Barry. "I had tremendous confidence in the Independent Safety Monitoring Board because it was of such high calibre. None of its members had any vested interest in the Programme so they were free to blow the whistle if they had any concerns - they never did."

The forum will be chaired by Health Research Council CEO Dr Bruce Scoggins. The council funded the original research looking at risk factors for meningococcal disease, assisted in identifying Chiron Corporation as a vaccine supplier, and appointed and managed the Independent Safety Monitoring Board.

"I think the Programme has been tremendously successful," he says. "What many people don't realise is the enormous amount of time and effort that has gone into it - right back to when people were trying to raise the alarm that this was looming as a big problem. You couldn't just get this vaccine off the shelf. We had to find out if there was someone who could make the strain-specific vaccine we required and then convince the Government that this was going to be money well-spent."

ENDS

As of May 28 2006 :

3,031,867 doses of the MeNZB vaccine had been given

More than 85 per cent of the population aged 5 to 17 years had received all three doses

Nearly 80 per cent of the population aged 6 weeks to 19 years had received all three doses

Over 1 million New Zealanders had started their three-dose course of MeNZB

More than 91 per cent of the young people who received dose one had gone on to receive all three doses

This will continue to increase until the end of the year when vaccinating for 5 to 19 year-olds comes to an end. The vaccine will remain available for under-fives until 2009 or earlier if new information indicates cessation is warranted.

More information on the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy can be found in the A to Z section of the Ministry of Health's homepage: www.moh.govt.nz

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