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Free vaccine protects against pneumococcal disease

Media Release


29 May 2008

Free vaccine protects against pneumococcal disease

From next week New Zealand babies will be eligible for a free vaccine that protects against pneumonia, meningitis, ear and sinus infections caused by pneumococcal bacteria.

Infants starting their routine immunisations will be offered the vaccine, called Prevenar, from 1 June when the 2008 National Immunisation Schedule takes effect, says Dr Pat Tuohy, the Ministry of Health’s Chief Advisor Child and Youth Health.

All babies born from 1 January 2008 can receive a “catch-up” course by contacting their family doctor or practice nurse. The vaccine will also be available free to children under five years old with certain medical conditions that put them at greater risk of pneumococcal disease.

New Zealand has relatively high rates of this disease. In 2006, 151 children under the age of five years contracted invasive pneumococcal disease – a severe disease such as pneumococcal meningitis.

“Sometimes people get confused between meningococcal B disease and pneumococcal disease. These diseases are caused by different bacteria. Babies need the pneumococcal vaccine to be protected from pneumococcal disease. The MeNZB vaccine offers no protection against pneumococcal disease,” Dr Tuohy says.

The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine is the key change to the National Immunisation Schedule which is reviewed every two years to ensure New Zealanders receive safe and effective vaccines.

Other immunisation changes include;

· The introduction of a six-in-one vaccine called Infanrix-hexa that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, hepatitis B and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b). Previously babies would have received two injections for protection against these diseases. Now it is just one.

· The vaccine given to 11-year-olds has changed to a booster dose of diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine called Boostrix. These children will no longer receive the polio vaccine with their other immunisations because they will have already had the recommended doses of polio vaccine by this age.

· From 1 September 2008, New Zealand girls aged 12 to 18 years will be offered a free vaccine to prevent the most common infections that can lead to cervical cancer. New Zealand’s HPV (human papillomavirus) Immunisation Programme will be initially offered to older girls born in 1990 and 1991 who are not at school. This age group can get HPV vaccine from their family doctor or practice nurse. The next stage of the programme will see younger girls in the 12-18 age group offered the vaccine at school starting in early 2009.

· The Meningococcal B (MeNZB) Immunisation Programme was a special programme and not part of the National Immunisation Schedule. From 1 June 2008 this vaccine will no longer be routinely offered to babies and preschoolers. Parents who started their baby's MeNZB doses before 1 June 2008 should try to complete the course by 31 December 2008.

If parents have questions or want more information about immunisation they should talk to their family doctor or practice nurse.

The Ministry of Health supports immunisation, says Dr Tuohy, but it is a parent’s right to choose whether they immunise their child.

“Babies and young children are at greatest risk of some infectious diseases. Immunisation at the recommended times is the safest and most effective way to help protect them against this risk. “

Further information about the pneumococcal vaccine is available at the Ministry of Health’s website http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/6181 Information about immunisation can be found at www.moh.govt.nz/immunisation

A table showing the 2008 National Immunisation Schedule is attached below

ENDS

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