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Pilot Scheme For Free Pneumonia Vaccines Begins


An innovative three-way joint venture pilot project is under way in Auckland seeking to identify and vaccinate 400 people at high risk of contracting pneumonia.

The North Shore general practitioners' organisation Comprehensive Health and its West Auckland equivalent, IPCS, have linked with Waitemata Health to run the project.

A budget of $22,000 from cost savings is enabling GPs to work with Waitemata Health to identify 400 at risk patients and provide them with a free vaccination against Pneumococcal disease. The vaccine being provided, PNEUMOVAX?23 (Pneumococcal Vaccine Polyvalent, MSD), usually costs patients between $50-60. A second vaccination is not usually required, though particularly high-risk patients can be candidates for a second vaccination after approximately five years, depending on their condition.

Comprehensive Health chief executive Mr Hugh Kininmonth said he hoped the pilot programme would help convince the Health Funding Authority that carefully targeted free pneumonia vaccination is a cost-effective preventative measure.

"Pneumonia is the second largest cause of admission at Waitemata Health, with more than 500 cases a year. We need a more proactive approach which keeps people out of hospital and gives them a better quality of life by providing initiatives such as pneumonia vaccination free of charge."

Dr Dwayne Crombie, chief executive officer at Waitemata Health said: "North Shore Hospital is very busy year round and right now is very full, with days when it goes over 100% and we are not yet into winter. This type of programme in cooperation with GPs is essential if we are to manage the huge increase in demand we are experiencing."

The median stay in New Zealand hospitals for patients admitted for pneumonia is eight days(1)

Dr Lannes Johnson, chairman of the IPCS general practitioner group in West Auckland, said: "Flu injections are already free for people suffering chronic respiratory and other problems and those over 65 years. This programme will help us evaluate the effectiveness of also providing the pneumonia vaccine for free, with a view to providing this on a wider basis next year."

Pneumonia is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in New Zealand(2), responsible for 1-2% of hospitalisations and 4% of mortality each year. The number of hospitalisations as a result of pneumonia increased markedly from 4,861 cases in 1991 to 10,179 cases in 1997.

The Ministry of Health recommends pneumococcal vaccination should be considered for "special risk" patients, including all those aged 65 years and over, those with diabetes and chronic illnesses such as cardiac, renal and pulmonary disease, and HIV patients and others with weakened immune systems.


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