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King Speech: Signing Of Contract With Chiron

21 March 2002
Speech Notes

Signing Of Second Contract With Chiron Corporation

Welcome to Parliament on what I believe is an auspicious day. I particularly want to welcome John Lambert, President of Chiron Vaccines, and other members of the Chiron delegation.

I cannot overemphasise the importance to New Zealand of the work you are undertaking on our behalf.

I am also pleased to be joined today by the Director-General of Health, Dr Karen Poutasi, the Director of Public Health, Dr Colin Tukuitonga, and the Director of the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy, Dr Jane O’Hallahan.

Thank you to everyone else who has joined us to witness the signing of the second contract with Chiron, the international biotechnology company that is being contracted to develop a vaccine specific to the strain of meningococcal group B bacterium that is responsible for New Zealand’s current epidemic.

Today is very much a milestone, because it offers tangible evidence of the Government’s commitment to funding the programme to develop and roll out a vaccine to end the meningococcal epidemic in New Zealand.

This partnership between Chiron Corporation and the Government, through the Ministry of Health, is the culmination of a massive exercise to establish and meet our particular needs. We have worked with global organisations and advisers to find and attract a partner with the necessary expertise and enthusiasm to help us. That partner is, of course, Chiron Corporation.

I’d like to thank all those who have carried out this preliminary work, and Chiron for helping us combat what is an insidious and intractable disease in this country.

Group B meningococcal disease has reached epidemic proportions in New Zealand. Last year, the epidemic peaked, with 648 reported cases. Twenty-six of these people died, and about 20 percent were left with some degree of disability or brain damage, deafness, loss of limbs, or the results of skin grafts to repair damaged skin.

There are no signs of this epidemic abating. The situation cannot go on as it is, and, thanks to Chiron and the Ministry of Health, I have every expectation that it will change in the very near future.

Meningococcal B disease has cost our society an estimated $630 million to date, with direct costs to the health sector estimated at $300 million. This does not include the human costs associated with death and the loss of quality of life for people affected by the disease.

Not taking action is simply not an option. Without intervention, we can expect the epidemic to continue for at least another 10 years, bringing more death, long-term disability, illness and the costs associated with it.

When we speak about costs, I believe the essential component of this equation is the human cost. Our emphasis has to be on the most at-risk pockets of our population first: our children, our teenagers, and our Maori and Pacific communities.

The New Zealand Health Strategy, the Pacific Health and Disability Action Plan and the Maori Health Strategy all identify vaccine-preventable diseases in children as a priority for action. The Integrated Approach to Infectious Diseases lists meningococcal disease as the highest priority disease to control.

It is certainly not all bad news. New Zealand has performed well by world standards in terms of early prevention and treatment of this disease. We are also working together to address the conditions in which the disease appears to thrive. Thank you to the Ministers of Pacific Island Affairs, Housing and Youth Affairs, along with other agencies, for your support.

The next step, however, is the reason we are here today – to develop, trial and manufacture a vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease.

Earlier this year I was pleased to signal the Government’s commitment to the meningococcal vaccine strategy with the announcement of funding of $100 million-plus toward the vaccine development and delivery.
And last week we announced a total funding package of $410 million over three years for primary health care. The new funding package will make it easier for groups with high health risks and with levels of deprivation to access primary health care services.

Today’s contract formalises our commitment to work with a commercial partner to combat one of the most insidious and frightening health problems this country faces.

Thank you once again for coming today, and for witnessing the beginning of this very special project. I am confident it will protect the health of thousands of New Zealanders in years to come.

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