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Ministry urges parents to fully immunise -MeNZB

Media Release

Ministry urges parents to fully immunise children against MeNZB™

7 December 2006

The Ministry of Health is urging parents to ensure that their children are fully immunised against the epidemic strain of Meningococcal B.

For young babies who began their Meningococcal B vaccinations before they were six months old, it is important that they have four doses. Newborns and under-fives who have not received MeNZB™vaccine will continue to be offered the Meningococal B immunizations until the programme is discontinued.

Five to 19-year-olds who have started their MeNZB™ immunisations up to 31 December 2006 may complete them in 2007. It is important to complete the full course - even if this means some MeNZB™ doses are administered in 2007. Those aged five to 19-years are not eligible to start a course of MeNZB™ in 2007.

This disease has had a devastating effect on society, and while the immunisation programme has done much to reduce the number of cases nationally, the epidemic strain is still present, says Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme Director Dr Jane O'Hallahan.

Those who are not fully immunised have a five times greater risk of getting the disease than those who are, according to an effectiveness study which is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

"While it is not a guarantee for everyone, the vaccine remains our most effective weapon in the fight against this disease," she says.

The initial impact from the immunisation programme shows MeNZB™ is helping to reduce harm from Meningococcal B. In the northern region, where the programme started, cases of the epidemic strain fell by 76 per cent between 2003 and 2005. In Maori and Pacific communities, with the highest rates of the disease, cases fell by 90 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

"Hospital staff in South Auckland say far fewer children are 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 O'Hallahan says.

Overall, we used to have 213 epidemic strain cases a year in under-20s, now we see around a quarter of that. We used to have seven deaths a year. So far this year there have been two.

"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."

The design of the MeNZB™vaccine programme was reviewed by an independent panel of experts, and the vaccine was thoroughly assessed and scrutinised prior to being introduced for use in New Zealand.

Scientific and medical evidence collected throughout the programme gives us confidence that the MeNZB™vaccine has an excellent safety profile and is effective, says Dr O'Hallahan.

The most common side effects reported were mild temporary reactions, similar to those recognised in other well-established vaccination programmes. More serious adverse events were extremely rare, and occurred at no greater rate than following other immunisations.

All medical interventions have side effects and immunisation is no exception, but considering that we still see cases of meningococcal disease, which can maim or kill children, the independent expert opinion is that the protection offered by immunisation far outweighs the very small risks of harm that might be associated with the MeNZB™vaccine.

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.

ENDS

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