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Minister Welcomes Meningococcal Vaccine Trials

31 May 2002 Media Statement
Health Minister Welcomes Meningococcal Vaccine Clinical Trials


Health Minister Annette King today welcomed the launch of clinical trials of a group B meningococcal vaccine as a solid step toward the end of an epidemic.

Seventy-five healthy adults, recruited through the health sector, are volunteering to test the vaccine, which has been developed to target the specific strain of group B meningococcal disease currently prevalent in New Zealand. The vaccine is based on a ‘parent’ vaccine already developed to combat a different strain of group B meningococcal disease in Norway.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see the meningococcal vaccine strategy reach this stage of development,” said Ms King. “The credit rests with a large number of people spanning the health sector and more will become involved as the strategy progresses.”

Ms King said the Government has committed up to $200 million to the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy to be funded over a five-year period, with $35 million to be spent in 2002-03.

The meningococcal vaccine strategy developed by the Ministry of Health is based on a partnership model with the vaccine manufacturer, Chiron Corporation, and the University of Auckland, who are together providing the medical and technical expertise required for a complex series of clinical trials.

“This kind of partnership is a unique and is expected to reap positive benefits for all New Zealanders. I wish them well and look forward to regular progress reports over the following months,” said Ms King.

Clinical trials of the group B meningococcal vaccine are expected to continue for the next 18 months. Each successive trial will progress as ethics and regulatory approvals are given. Further approvals are then required before the vaccine can be licensed for distribution.

“All going well we anticipate a mass vaccination campaign targeting all under 20-year olds to begin in 2004,” said Ms King. “New Zealanders are dying from this disease. I encourage all New Zealanders to give the strategy, including clinical trials, their full support.”

ENDS

Group B meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria that can lead to septicemia (commonly known as blood poisoning), meningitis (swelling of the brain) or a combination of both. It affects all age and ethnic groups at alarming rates in New Zealand, however, the rates of disease in Mäori and Pacific peoples are extraordinarily high, especially in young children.

Meningococcal disease has been experienced in epidemic proportions in New Zealand since 1991. Approximately 90% of cases are caused by a specific strain of group B meningococcal disease, for which there is currently no commercial vaccine available. The epidemic is expected to last at least a further 10 years without a vaccine-based health intervention.

Last year (2001) the epidemic peaked with 650 confirmed cases. 26 people died as a result while up to 20% were left with some degree of disability – brain damage, deafness, and loss of limbs or damaged skin requiring extensive skin grafts.

This epidemic has cost New Zealand society $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 loss of quality of life for people affected by meningococcal disease. Ongoing costs are estimated at $75 million per year.

The New Zealand Government has committed up to $200 million over five years to the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy. This money will pay for a programme that includes vaccine development, clinical trials and manufacture, administration, marketing and distribution. Further information is available at www.moh.govt.nz/meningococcal

Meningococcal Disease – Early Treatment Saves Lives! Until a vaccine is widely available, people still need to be aware of the symptoms and to seek medical treatment early.

Don't wait - take action: see a doctor if you or your child is sick.
If your child is sick - check often.
Your child may be seriously ill if they:
 Have a fever
 Refuse drink or food
 Are sleepy or floppy - or harder to wake
 Vomit
 Are crying or unsettled
 Have a rash/spots
 Have a headache.
Doctors' visits are usually free for children under six.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease - though those at greatest risk are children under five and young adults.
If your child gets worse - take them straight back to the doctor.

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