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Two million MeNZB vaccine doses delivered

18 August 2005

Two million doses delivered in the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme

New Zealand’s largest ever immunisation campaign has passed the 2 million doses milestone this week, with about 900,000 young New Zealanders having received the MeNZB vaccine.

Minister of Health Annette King announced the milestone during a visit to the Hutt Union and Community Health Service’s Pomare Health Clinic in Lower Hutt today. (18/8) Ms King says “The two millionth dose is a significant milestone. And this clinic is a great example of why the MeNZB campaign is successful. It’s all about community organisations delivering health services to their communities.

“90% of the people eligible for the vaccine have been drawn into the programme with innovative ideas like holding community vaccination clinics in halls with bouncy castles, videos and games to make the experience a real family friendly occasion.

“A fantastic amount of work is being done by a huge team of people from across the health and education sectors. These people are dedicated to making sure we can offer young people in New Zealand the best protection available against a dreadful disease.” “I want to thank everyone involved and that is a cast of thousands from the nurses and doctors working in primary care to the public health nurses, principals and teachers in schools who have worked together to enable students to be immunised at school. At times, 20,000 doses a day are being delivered by these teams.”

“We should also be praising New Zealand families because to date more 95 percent of school consent forms have been returned with about 90 percent consenting to vaccinate. This in itself is an incredible achievement.

“Time-wise, we’re about halfway through the mass immunisation programme so it is not too late to get started and to get all three vaccinations, which you need for protection.

Parents cannot sit back and think the epidemic is going away. Unless your child is immunised they are not protected. So far this year, there have been 151 cases of meningococcal disease and 9 deaths. About 75 percent of all lab confirmed cases are the epidemic strain of the disease which the MeNZB vaccine offers protection from.

Ms King says "In Counties-Manukau, where the vaccine has had the longest time to make an impact on rates of the disease, the early indications look promising. There were 62 cases per 100,00 population in 2003/04 and in 2004/05 it was 32 cases per 100,000."

While people who want to get their children immunised are being encouraged not to leave it too long, the Ministry of Health is emphasizing the need for everyone who starts the programme to get all three doses. As is normal with many vaccine young babies who begin the programme before they are six months may also need a booster dose.

"But even if someone has been fully immunised, they need to stay vigilant for signs of meningococcal disease. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, the vaccine only offers protection against the epidemic strain of meningococcal disease and there are other serious illnesses with similar symptoms that we must be wary of.”


Is the vaccine effective?

The clinical trials indicate that the MeNZB vaccine is effective against the epidemic strain of meningococcal disease. There is a very early indication that the vaccine is having an impact in reducing the number of epidemic-strain meningococcal disease cases for the under 5 age group in Counties-Manukau. The rate of disease in this age group has halved in the 04 / 05 year compared with the 03 / 04 year. In comparison, the rate of disease in this age group in the rest of the country only dropped by about one-fifth. The intention of this programme is to accelerate the demise of this disease.

Is it safe for my six week old to be immunised?

The MeNZB vaccine can be given to infants at the same time as routine childhood immunisations. Given the high incidence of disease in this age group, the sooner they get immunised the better. Immunisation does not make a baby more susceptible to illnesses. One study in the leading United States medical journal, Pediatrics, estimates that each baby’s immune system could theoretically respond to 10,000 vaccines at any one time.

What reactions to the vaccine have been reported?

Vaccines are designed to generate a reaction, but the level of reaction varies. From 19 July 2004 to 17 June 2005, the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring has recorded 925 reports of events following MeNZB vaccination. Most of the reactions have been local reactions that are expected, such as pain or swelling at the injection site.

Has the vaccine been fully tested? Yes.

There is clinical trial data from New Zealand, which combined with relevant international data led to regulatory bodies recommending the vaccine be introduced based on safety and efficacy considerations. Local and international experts supported the vaccine’s approval through the regulatory process. The approvals process was the same as for meningococcal vaccines introduced in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Is the meningococcal disease epidemic waning?

In 2004, New Zealand’s rate of meningococcal disease was more than three-times the rate considered an epidemic. If we do not vaccinate, the epidemic is likely to run for at least another six to 10 years. Not immunising is not a good option for future victims of this disease.

How much is this programme costing?

The total cost of the programme is $200 million. This includes the cost of the development of the vaccine, manufacturing, clinical trials, distribution, payment for delivery of the vaccine, outreach services and awareness raising about the programme. Direct costs to the health sector from the epidemic are estimated at $450 million, while the total cost to society from this epidemic has been estimated at $1 billion.


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