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Concerns raised over NorwegianTV documentary

Media Release

2 November 2006

Concerns raised over Norwegian television documentary

The Ministry of Health is concerned at the unwarranted alarm likely to accompany the screening of a Norwegian television documentary here this weekend.

Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme Director Dr Jane O'Hallahan acknowledges that there is likely to be considerable public concern about any information about adverse reactions claimed to be linked to the MeNZB™ vaccine but says New Zealand parents are not getting the full picture.

The Ministry of Health, health professionals and health groups are concerned about the impact that the Norwegian television documentary, which is dominated by critics of the immunisation programme, will have here.

The documentary largely ignores the impact of the Meningococcal B epidemic in New Zealand and the effectiveness of the MeNZB™ vaccine in helping to reduce harm to and deaths of young New Zealanders.

"New Zealand had a safety monitoring programme which experts regard as world-class. Throughout the rollout of the MeNZB™ vaccine we checked for the types of adverse events that occurred in Norway and elsewhere - those checks have not shown any unexpected serious adverse events, " Dr O'Hallahan says.

The quality, safety and effectiveness of the vaccine was thoroughly assessed by the Ministry of Health's medicine regulatory arm Medsafe. It was appropriately trialled in New Zealand and its roll out intensively monitored for safety by Medsafe and an independent expert group.

We ran vaccine trials that met national and international standards. Based on advice from world experts, it was decided that a phase 3 trial was scientifically unwarranted, Dr O'Hallahan said.

"We had a devastating epidemic to deal with which was scarring, maiming and killing New Zealand children - to delay the vaccine further would have meant many more children would have suffered."

Already we are starting to see the results of the immunisation programme. We used to have on average about 213 epidemic strain cases a year in under-20s, now we see around a quarter of that. We used to have on average about seven deaths a year from the epidemic strain. So far this year there have been two, she said.

The Ministry will continue to monitor the situation in Norway and provide information to health professionals and the public about any significant developments.

Both the Ministry and the Immunisation Advisory Centre, phone 0800 IMMUNE or 0800 466 863, will have detailed information available. Anyone with health concerns should discuss them with their GP.

ENDS

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