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Second phase of vaccine clinical trials begins

24 October 2002 Media Statement

Second phase of Group B meningococcal vaccine clinical trials begins

Health Minister Annette King and the University of Auckland are pleased to announce the start of the second phase of clinical trials of a vaccine to fight group B meningococcal disease.

Ms King said the start of the new phase of clinical trials signified a big step toward combating the killer disease.

Clinical Trial Principal Investigator, Auckland University Professor Diana Lennon, said she was delighted. “Every step we take in this process brings us closer to significantly reducing the impact group B meningococcal disease is having on New Zealanders, and particularly children under five years old.

“Almost every day a child is admitted to hospital somewhere in New Zealand and the chances are these children will suffer long-term problems even if they survive this disease,” she said.

Ms King said last year 26 people of the 650 who contracted the disease died.

“Up to 20 percent of the other 624 would have been left with serious disability. Still more would have been left with educational or behavioural difficulties. Meningococcal disease has raged war in New Zealand at epidemic levels for 11 years now, and could easily continue to kill dozens and leave hundreds disabled every year for the next decade if we didn’t develop a vaccine,” she said.

“This disease affects New Zealanders from all walks of life, but the rate is particularly high amongst Pacific and Maori communities.

“The Government has committed significant resources, up to $200 million, to putting a stop to this dreadful disease as part of its wider commitment to improving child health and the health status of all New Zealanders.

“Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children from disease. Through vaccination we have been able to eliminate such serious diseases such as polio and diphtheria, and we are hoping that through the Meningococal Vaccine Strategy, group B meningococcal disease will join the list of diseases that we can use vaccination to fight,” Ms King said.

Phase I of the clinical trials involved 75 healthy adult volunteers. The first part of phase II involves about 300 eight to twelve-year-old children in the south Auckland suburbs of Manurewa and Papakura. The vaccine is similar to one that has been administered in more than 40 million doses overseas with no recorded unexpected serious adverse reactions.

The Ministry of Health, which manages the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy, has contracted Auckland University to run the clinical trials. Auckland University is also responsible for evaluating the programme, in terms of vaccine effectiveness and epidemic control.

The vaccine was developed and is being manufactured by the Californian-based Chiron Corporation, in association with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

ENDS

For background information on the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy or meningococcal disease visit www.moh.govt.nz/meningococcal.

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