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Successful MeNZB campaign comes to an end

Hon David Cunliffe
Minister of Health

14 April 2008 Media Statement
Successful MeNZB campaign comes to an end

The successful Meningococcal B immunisation campaign has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of cases Minister of Health David Cunliffe said.

Mr Cunliffe said the campaign had been such a success the Government had now received advice from clinicians through the Ministry of Health that a mass vaccination campaign was no longer needed.

Announcing the end of the immunisation programme this May the Mr Cunliffe said the number of cases being reported were rapidly declining after the peak of the epidemic in 2001 when 370 cases were reported .

”This has been a huge win for the New Zealand Public health system and a lot of the praise must go to the doctors, nurses, immunisation experts and Maori and Pacific providers who whole heartedly backed this immunisation programme.”

“We needed this vaccine because of the devastating toll this disease was taking in many New Zealand communities. It is now clear disease rates are at their lowest level in a decade,” Mr Cunliffe said.

“More then one million New Zealanders have now been immunised but it must be remembered this vaccine only protects New Zealanders from one strain of meningococcal disease. As a nation we must remain vigilant of the signs and symptoms of this potentially devastating disease.”

“The Ministry of Health will continue to assure monitoring the disease and they will reintroduce the vaccine if it is ever needed again “

The Minister of Health said that children under 5 who had only been given one dose of the Meningococcal B vaccine by June the 1st would be able to have their boosters provided they had them by December the 31st .

In 2004, the Meningococcal B Programme started immunising all New Zealanders under the age of 20 years. In 2006, extra funding was given to extend immunisations for pre-schoolers until mid-2009 if necessary.

Pneumococcal disease is now having a greater impact on the community, and the Government will make an announcement on plans to tackle this disease in the coming weeks.


Questions and Answers – meningococcal B immunisation programme

What was the purpose of the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme?
The Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme was designed to control an epidemic of a specific strain of meningococcal B disease. It was always intended to be a short term programme and this is supported by the fact that blood tests suggest protection is unlikely to be long term. The MeNZB™ vaccine was used successfully as a circuit breaker, preventing cases of meningococcal disease during the epidemic.

Why end MeNZB™ immunisation now?
With disease rates now at the lowest level in a decade, the Ministry of Health has received expert advice that there is no longer a need for mass immunisation with MeNZB™. In 1997 there were 235 epidemic strain cases, rising to 370 at the peak of the epidemic in 2001. The Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme began in 2004 and by last year, the number of epidemic strain cases had fallen to 47.

How much did the meningococcal B Immunisation Programme cost?
The Government committed $200 million to the meningococcal Vaccine Strategy which paid for the development of a strain-specific vaccine, clinical trials and implementation of our biggest mass immunisation campaign for all New Zealanders under 20 years old. A further $22 million was committed so that if necessary, the programme could continue for children aged under five years until mid 2009.

How many epidemic strain cases have there been over the past 10 years?

Year All meningococcal cases Confirmed epidemic strain
1991 71
1992 153
1993 202
1994 208
1995 394
1996 473
1997 614 235
1998 438 223
1999 504 253
2000 480 269
2001 651 370
2002 556 291
2003 541 259
2004* 341 184
2005 227 113
2006** 160 74
2007 105 47

* Immunisation programme started
** Mass Programme for those age under 20 years ended. Preschoolers only continued to receive MeNZB™

Click to enlarge

How many New Zealanders were immunised with MeNZB™?
More than one million New Zealanders under the age of 20 years have received one or more doses of MeNZB™ vaccine. In total, 3.4 million doses of vaccine have been given.

How many New Zealanders contracted the epidemic strain despite being fully immunised?
Since the immunisation programme began in 2004, there have been 46 cases where a New Zealander contracted the epidemic strain despite being fully immunised with MeNZB™ vaccine.
While most people are protected after completing the course, no vaccine provides 100 per cent protection to everyone. This is why people need to be vigilant, whether they have been immunised or not, about the signs and symptoms of meningococcal B disease.

How many New Zealanders died despite being fully immunised?
There has been one case where a child died from the epidemic strain despite being fully immunised.

My child has had only one MeNZB™ dose. Can they complete the course after 1 June 2008?
Yes if they are under 5 years old. Babies and children under 5 years who have started their MeNZB™ vaccinations before 1 June 2008 have until 31 December 2008 to complete the course.

Will MeNZB™ vaccine be made available to anyone else?
Yes. The vaccine will continue to be made available for high risk groups, such as those with asplenia and laboratory workers.

Can parents pay for the vaccine if they want their child to have it?
No.The MeNZB™ vaccine is not commercially available.

What if the epidemic returns in the next few years?
The Ministry of Health will continue to monitor meningococcal B disease and will have a supply of MeNZB™ available if disease rates increase substantially. The Ministry will also develop criteria that would be used to determine the need for the reintroduction of the vaccine, either at a national or local level.

What happens next?
Pneumococcal disease is now having a greater impact in our communities. The pneumococcal vaccine, Prevenar is the new priority for New Zealand babies and will be available free from 1 June 2008 to all babies born from 1 January 2008.

What do parents need to do now about meningococcal disease?
Even though meningococcal B epidemic strain disease rates are low, the disease is still present. The MeNZB™ vaccine protects against the strain of meningococcal B causing the epidemic, but it will not protect against other strains. This is why New Zealanders still need to watch out for the signs and symptoms of this disease, and seek medical help immediately if they are concerned.

What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection. It causes severe illnesses including meningitis (an infection of membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (a serious infection in the blood). There are several strains of bacteria which cause meningococcal disease including A, B and C. MeNZB™ vaccine was developed to protect against the strain of meningococcal B causing the New Zealand epidemic.

What are the symptoms?
In the early stages meningococcal disease may look like influenza. It can progress quickly and can be difficult to diagnose.
A baby or child might have a fever;
- be crying or unsettled;
- refuse drinks or feeds;
- vomit;
- be sleepy, floppy or hard to wake;
- dislike bright lights;
- have a rash or spots.

An adult may have:
- a fever or headache;
- a stiff neck, joint pain or aching muscles;
- may vomit, be sleepy, confused, delirious or unconscious;
- dislike bright lights;
- have a rash or spots.

Who made the MeNZB™ vaccine and how was it developed for use in New Zealand?
New Zealand has had an epidemic of group B meningococcal disease since 1991. The MeNZB™ vaccine was developed to target the particular strain of bacteria that is causing the epidemic. Other meningococcal B vaccines that are available do not give protection from this particular bacterium.

MeNZB™ was manufactured by Chiron Corporation (now Novartis) and is based on a vaccine that was developed and tested by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in the 1990s for another strain of group B meningococcal disease. The vaccine went through clinical trials before the immunisation programme began. There was comprehensive safety monitoring throughout the programme.

More information is available at and


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