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Good news for Maori in vaccination figures

22 February 2006

Good news for Maori in latest Meningococcal B vaccination figures

Maori children are currently being vaccinated at a higher rate than all other ethnic groups and across most age groups, says Associate Health Minister Mita Ririnui.

"This is encouraging news and a great milestone for our people who have such a high rate of meningococcal disease," said Mita Ririnui.

While coverage levels for Pacific and Other ethnic groups remain higher than Maori, there has been a significant increase in Maori uptake in the past 10 weeks.

Mr Ririnui said the most promising result was in the 6 week to 11-month age group where there has been a marked increase in the number of Maori babies starting their MeNZB vaccinations and coming back to complete doses 2 and 3.

"The higher uptake in this age group is significant because Maori have historically been reticent about immunising our babies."

Mr Ririnui attributed the increase to a new advertising campaign featuring Maori whanau which coincided with the rise. There has also been additional outreach work focusing on Maori and the under-fives, which has seen nurses and health providers working with communities and vaccinating in homes.

"The face to face approach - kanohi te kanohi - is particularly acceptable to our people," he said.

"We always anticipated it would take longer for our people to engage with the MeNZB campaign. We were advised from the start that Maori would take a wait-and-see approach before allowing their children to be immunised. I believe the increase in uptake we're currently experiencing reflects the trust Maori now have in the programme and I expect to see this trend continue."

The MeNZB mass immunisation campaign ends June 30. Mr Ririnui is urging Maori to bring in their young now so they can start - and complete - their vaccination doses.

While the mass vaccination campaign ends June 30, the vaccine will remain available to 5 to 19 year-olds until December 31 in order for them to complete their doses.

"It is important under-fives also aim to complete all doses by June 30 because this age group is at increased risk of meningococcal disease, particularly during the winter season. So the sooner they are vaccinated, the sooner immunity can develop."

However, five year-olds who have not been vaccinated by that date will continue to be offered the vaccine, which will remain available to their age group until further notice.

New babies will be routinely offered the vaccine alongside the childhood immunisations that offer protection against such diseases as whooping cough, polio and hepatitis B.

Mr Ririnui stressed the importance of completing all the doses. "A child that is not fully vaccinated remains at risk."


Background

Everybody in New Zealand is at high risk of contracting meningococcal disease, but Maori have a disproportionately high rate - on average double that of Europeans.

Before the mass immunisation programme began in 2004, one in every 117 Maori children was likely to contract meningococcal disease by the time they were five years old. In comparison, children of European descent aged under five years had a 1 in 438 chance of contracting the disease.

In January the Ministry of Health announced babies would need a fourth MeNZB dose.This had been anticipated and is because the immune systems of young babies are not fully developed, so they often need extra stimulus to build good antibody protection. Parents and caregivers will be contacted when their baby's fourth dose is due.

Older children do not need a fourth dose.

Nearly three million MeNZB doses have now been given. More than 920,000 young people have had all three doses. The Ministry of Health says there are promising early signs the vaccine is having an impact on the MeNZB epidemic.

Vaccination is free.

For information on where to get vaccinated: 0800 20 30 90.
Information on MeNZB and the Immunisation programme can be found on the net at: www.immunise.moh.govt.nz/

ENDS

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