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Pneumococcal vaccine gets green light

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pneumococcal vaccine gets green light
Year-long campaign comes to fruition

The Meningitis Trust is pleased to announce that, after 12-months of hard work, the Ministry of Health has agreed to make a life-saving vaccine freely available to all New Zealand children.

Health Minister Pete Hodgson today said (subs: Sunday) that pneumococcal vaccine would be put on the free immunisation schedule for 2008 - giving children the best available defence against the deadly but preventable pneumococcal disease.

The announcement paves the way for the vaccine to be freely available around June next year.

"This is a proven life-saver," says Meningitis Trust general manager Fiona Colbert. "We applaud the government for its support and that it has recognised the benefits of this vaccine. This is a major step forward for the health of our children."

Every year over 500 New Zealanders, many of whom are children, fall victim to invasive pneumococcal disease, a silent disease that can kill or cause devastating brain injury. Auckland studies found nearly 2 of every 1,000 children under 2 years old are hospitalised with invasive pneumococcal disease. For Maori and Pacific children the rate is slightly higher with nearly 3 of 1,000 children under 2 years old hospitalised. By World Health Organisation standards this is an epidemic.

The WHO estimates that 1.6 million people, including one million young children, die of this disease every year. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV-7) was added to the routine childhood immunisation programmes in the USA in 2000, Australia in 2005 and in the UK in 2006. In those countries, the disease has been significantly reduced

Pneumococcal infections are a leading cause of meningitis, bacteraemia, pneumonia and bacterial otitis media [middle ear infection].

"We have had phenomenal support from families throughout New Zealand and we thank them for that. Now we need their support in making sure their children are vaccinated to give them the best available defence against this deadly disease," says Mrs Colbert.

What is Pneumococcal Disease?
Pneumococcal (pronounced new-mo-cockle) disease is a leading cause of meningitis ( infection of the membrane of the spinal cord), bacteraemia (bacterial infection of the blood) and bacterial pneumonia (lung inflammation), bacterial otitis media (middle ear infection) and sinusitis (sinus infection).
It is caused by a common bacterium, Streptococcus (S.) pneumoniae.

Who is at risk?
Children under 2 years of age
Children who attend daycare
Children exposed to one or more courses of antibiotics
Children who have suffered at least one recent ear infection
Children in high risk groups such as immuno-compromised individuals
Maori and Pacific Island children, especially those aged less than 2 years are also at increased risk

How serious is Pneumococcal Disease in New Zealand?
Pneumococcal disease can be very serious. It may cause death, permanent hearing loss and brain damage.
Over 500 New Zealanders will contract invasive pneumococcal disease each year - with a significant proportion of these cases occurring in children under 2 years of age Pneumococcal disease can impact the quality of life for a child and the entire family.
Many children who contract pneumococcal disease are hospitalized.
Pneumococcal disease places a heavy burden on New Zealand healthcare resources.

How might children contract Pneumococcal Disease?
The pneumococcal bug is carried in the nose and throats of many healthy adults and children.
It can be passed from one child to another in droplets that are released into the air by sneezing and coughing.

What are the symptoms?
Fits, fever, vomiting, irritability, dislike of bright lights, drowsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness, high pitched crying, bulging fontanelle, joint and/or muscle pain,
headache, stiff neck.
These symptoms might look like "the flu" and not all symptoms may be present.

How is Pneumococcal Disease prevented?
Pneumococcal disease is now largely preventable through vaccination.
Vaccination may reduce the spread of pneumococcal disease.
Prevenar is the first and only vaccine available to prevent serious pneumococcal disease in infants and young children.

In New Zealand, the Prevenar vaccine is currently only available for children at special risk and on the private market.


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