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Timing Update On Meningococcal Vaccine Project

Timing Update On Meningococcal Vaccine Project

THE Ministry of Health today announced an updated timeframe for the group B meningococcal vaccination campaign.

Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy Director Dr Jane O'Hallahan said the Ministry had been working closely with the vaccine manufacturer, Californian-based Chiron Corporation, to refine when the vaccine would be available in New Zealand.

The Ministry is planning to immunise New Zealanders under-20 years with the vaccine, to help combat the group B meningococcal epidemic in New Zealand. Since 1991, more than 4700 New Zealanders have contracted the disease, 200 people have died and hundreds have been left seriously disabled.

"Chiron Corporation has informed us that it anticipates the vaccine will be ready for the pilot vaccination campaign to occur in south Auckland from January 2004. This means that we will be able to start the nationwide rollout of the vaccine from June 2004. This planning is subject to obtaining the necessary regulatory approval," Dr O'Hallahan said.

"Prior to this latest information, we had hoped to be ready to undertake the pilot campaign in south Auckland in the second half of 2003, and the national rollout from April 2004.

"These timeframes were always flexible and were based on the best-case scenario. All timeframes continue to be indicative. We had planned and will continue to plan to ensure we are prepared to immunise New Zealanders at the earliest possible opportunity.

"Additional time has needed to be spent in upscaling the vaccine to produce the large quantities that will be required. Upscaling the production of any vaccine to produce required quantities that are pure, sterile and consistent is commonly a challenging process.

"The mix of a biological vaccine with exacting quality control standards means that production delays are a normal part of vaccine development, and timing of vaccine production always needs an element of flexibility. Safety and quality are of paramount concern to the Ministry of Health and Chiron Corporation.

"It is also important to reassure the public that the reasons for the updated timeframe - when large volumes can be produced for the vaccination campaign - do not impact on the safety or validity of the clinical trials. The clinical trials are using small batches of high quality vaccine.

"While the formal evaluation has not been completed, the vaccine that has been clinically trialled, as well as being safe, appears to provide protection against the disease.

"The Ministry of Health and Chiron Corporation are committed to immunising New Zealanders most at risk from the epidemic strain of group B meningococcal disease as soon as we can. Any changes to timing that push out the implementation date are very disappointing, but not unexpected given the vaccine's biological nature," Dr O'Hallahan said.

Last year 650 people contracted group B meningococcal disease and 26 died from it. This year, as at November 13, 533 people had contracted meningococcal disease and 16 had died from it.

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