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Meningitis Foundation Urges Those Eligible To Get Vaccinated For Meningococcal B

The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand says a greater number of people are now eligible for vaccination against the deadly meningococcal B strain from today.

The organisation has urged all eligible people to seek vaccination for both the meningococcal B and ACW and Y strains of the disease but has highlighted that the eligibility criteria do not go far enough and must be extended to all 16-year-olds before they leave school.

From 1 March 2023 (today), Pharmac is funding the meningococcal B vaccine (Bexsero) for:

  • children up to 12 months of age (with a relevant catch-up programme)
  • people aged 13 to 25 years who are entering into or in their first year of specified close-living situations (with a limited catch-up programme).

The eligibility criteria to access the free meningococcal B vaccine is the same as those for existing meningococcal ACW&Y vaccination.

The Meningitis Foundation’s chair, Gerard Rushton, says the criteria overlook significant at-risk groups of 13-25 year-olds who are living in shared flats, or crowded or multigenerational homes.

“We celebrate the decision to fund the meningococcal B vaccine for infants, and implore Pharmac and their sector partners to move quickly to drive uptake of the childhood vaccine to protect our most vulnerable,” says Gerard.

“This access programme discriminates against those who chose to enter the workforce, assume carer roles, live at home or off-campus while at high school or university, or undertake vocational training.

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“Māori and Pasifika within the 13- 25-year-old age range are one of the most at-risk groups, represented in approximately 70% of all cases according to the latest data.”

The notifiable diseases statistics, released by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESC) for December 2022 show 44 cases of IPD and 3 cases of Meningococcal Disease.

In 2022, there were a total of 72 cases of Meningococcal in 2022, and 634 cases of IPD. Both were significantly up on the previous year, with 71.5% increase in Meningococcal.

“We will continue to see rangatahi die from meningococcal disease due to the lack of a comprehensive and timely vaccination programme,” Gerard says.

He says that The Meningitis Foundation has been working with Te Whatu Ora about ways to increase awareness and uptake of the two meningococcal vaccines, however he was concerned that the meningococcal B vaccine was being introduced with very little awareness.

“We have already missed the commencement of the academic year for secondary and tertiary institutions, a critical time to reach our young adults, and their parents, caregivers and whānau,” says Gerard.

“While the access may have been expanded to include meningococcal B, the awareness continues to be low.

“Vaccination rates set by the Government for the ACW&Y vaccines have failed to reach their target. We don’t want to see vaccines wasted when they should be used. People need to know they, or their family members are eligible for free vaccination.

“We urge Pharmac to make further assessments to widen vaccine access without delay.”

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