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Meningococcal B immunisation rates high

18 August 2006

Meningococcal B immunisation rates high but fight not over

The fight against the epidemic strain of meningococcal B is far from over, despite new figures showing high immunisation completion rates.

More than one million young New Zealanders have had their first dose of the MeNZB™ vaccine, latest National Immunisation Register figures to July 2, 2006 show.

Of the children and teenagers who started their vaccinations against the disease, more than 90 per cent have now completed the course. Among all young New Zealanders under 20 years old, about 80 per cent or about 949,000 have now completed three doses of the MeNZB™ vaccine. For Mâori, the figure is about 72 per cent or about 201,000.

One of the reasons for lower immunisation rates among Mâori in the register data is the different ways ethnicity is recorded in the 2001 Census and primary care practice records. This can lead to distortions in coverage estimates. The coverage for Mâori children under 5 years of age could be underestimated by around 10 per cent.

The staggered roll-out of the programme means immunisation rates vary across District Health Boards.

Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme Director Dr Jane O'Hallahan says the high coverage rates are encouraging but it is crucial that under 20-year-olds who are not yet fully immunised complete their MeNZB™ vaccinations.

“Meningococcal B has already had a devastating effect on society, and while the immunisation programme has done much to reduce the number of cases nationally, the disease is still present."

So far this year there have been three deaths of under 20-year-olds from meningococcal disease. Two were epidemic strain, one in a partially immunised child and the other a fully immunised child. In the third case, the strain has not been able to be identified.

“Our focus must remain on breaking the natural cycle of this disease epidemic through the immunisation programme, and saving lives where we can. Results from an independent effectiveness study show the vaccine works. Those who are not fully immunised have a five times greater risk of getting the disease. While it is not a guarantee for everyone, the vaccine remains our most effective weapon in the war against meningococcal B." “We know that the highest rates of meningococcal disease are in those under five and the younger the child, the higher risk of the disease. It is important that children and young people complete all three doses,” Dr O'Hallahan says.

For young babies who began their vaccinations before they were six months old, it is critical that they have all four doses.

Under-20s have until the end of the year to complete all three doses, while newborns and under-fives will continue to be offered the programme until 2009.

No vaccine provides 100 per cent protection. Most people who are immunised with MeNZB™ vaccine are protected against the epidemic strain, but the vaccine may not protect every person who receives the full course. The MeNZB™ vaccine will not protect against other strains of meningococcal disease and there is also up to a 28-day delay after the full course is completed for immunity to develop.

Parents need to be vigilant about the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease. In the early stages the disease may look like influenza. It can progress very quickly and is difficult to diagnose.

A baby or child might have a fever, be crying or unsettled, refuse drinks or feeds, vomit, be sleepy, floppy or hard to wake, dislike bright lights or have a rash or spots. An adult may have a fever or headache, a stiff neck, joint pain and aching muscles, vomit, be sleepy, confused, delirious or unconscious, dislike bright lights, have a rash or spots.

If you are concerned that you or someone in your household has meningococcal disease, ring a doctor or medical centre urgently.


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