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MeNZB programme achieves major milestone for Maori

7 October 2005

MeNZB programme achieves major milestone for Mäori

More than half a million doses of MeNZB vaccine have been given to tamariki Mäori in the Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme.

The programme has been nationwide since July, offering free immunisation to everyone aged six weeks to 19 years. Now the programme is increasing its focus on vaccinating those who have not yet started the three doses of the vaccine and those who have not completed the full course. The MeNZB vaccine offers protection against the epidemic strain of meningococcal disease in New Zealand.

Programme director Dr Jane O'Hallahan says this latest milestone for Mäori is an encouraging sign that the programme is reaching those most at risk of the disease.

"We are really delighted that so many tamariki Mäori have started their vaccinations. The risk of contracting meningococcal disease is three times higher for Mäori than non-Mäori, but generally immunisation rates for Mäori have historically been lower than non-Mäori.

"We have been particularly concerned for the under-five age group, who face the highest risk from meningococcal disease, and a lot of work is being done to ensure these vulnerable children can get these immunisations easily.

"Many whanau visit a local doctor for their immunisations, but this is sometimes difficult when transport, work pressures or other barriers make access to a medical centre complicated.

"That is why, across the country, Mäori health providers, doctors, nurses, community health workers and others are going out into the community to try to make sure all children and young people can be immunised. Vaccinations are taking place in schools, kohanga reo, marae, churches, community halls, special tents and buses. Nurses are also taking to the streets and rural roads, knocking on doors and vaccinating children and young people at home.

To date, about 210,000 tamariki Mäori have received their first MeNZB dose. About 146,000 tamariki Mäori have received all three doses.

"One of the really positive aspects of the programme has been the excellent response by whanau Mäori to having their tamariki immunised at school. Mäori consenting rates in the school-based campaign have been as good, or even better in some areas, as others. This shows Mäori parents are as keen to protect their tamariki from this fearsome disease as others. What we now are concentrating on is getting the same coverage for pre-schoolers and young people who have left school.

"It is important to understand for statistical reasons the data is likely to under-count vaccinations given to Mäori. However even taking this into account, the data does indicate more effort is required to improve Mäori coverage rates.

Up to 2 October 2005, about 62 per cent of tamariki Mäori aged under five years had received dose one and 37 per cent had completed all three doses. About 35 per cent of Maori aged 18 and 19 years had received their first dose and 17 per cent had completed all three doses. "It is critically important for everyone aged from six weeks to 19 years to complete the three doses," Dr O'Hallahan says.

"We are seeing evidence that the vaccine is providing good protection to those who are fully vaccinated. Those who are not vaccinated remain at risk of the epidemic strain of the disease."

Last year New Zealand had 342 cases of meningococcal disease with 8 deaths. This year to date, there have been 183 cases with 10 deaths. Maori and Pacific children are over-represented in the case numbers.

Not all of the cases reported this year are due to the epidemic strain but it has caused 75 per cent of cases since the epidemic began in 1991.

On average, there have been 364 cases of meningococcal disease each year for the last five years. The highest annual total recorded since the epidemic began was in 2001 when there were 650 cases of meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme - www.immunise.moh.govt.nz

ENDS

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