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Uptake Rate Of Men B Vaccination Highlights Critical Need To Broaden Eligibility For Rangatahi (young Adults)

The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand says vaccination data it has received from Te Whatu Ora is proof of the success of the funded meningococcal vaccination programme but work still has to be done to simplify access and make the MenB and MenACWY vaccines available to ALL young people between the ages of 13 and 25 .

Since the vaccine for meningococcal B was included on the National Immunisation Schedule (NIS) on 1 March 2023, administration numbers in infants under 12 months old have increased significantly in the last six months, with similar increases seen in children 12 months to 5 years over the same period (when compared to the previous six month period).

The figures show that 51,376 vaccine doses have been administered to infants under 12 months old, and 122,050 vaccine doses in children aged 12 months to 5 years during the period. Both groups require up to three doses in total (dependent on age at first dose) to be fully immunised.

The Meningitis Foundation’s chair, Gerard Rushton, says the data proves that the funded vaccination programme has been a success within the eligible age groups, however there is still a concerningly low level of uptake of the MenB vaccine in our rangatahi (young adults), with just 9,612 vaccinations administered between 1 March and 31 August 2023 despite a catch-up programme being in place.

“Vaccination rates among infants are very encouraging, and we commend Te Whatu Ora on the successful implementation of the vaccine against meningococcal B in the National Immunisation Schedule,” he says. “The significant increase in numbers represents a huge effort from vaccinators, and we know that a great deal of work has gone on behind the scenes to achieve these numbers, including work that goes into ensuring parents understand the importance of vaccines to protect against meningococcal B.”

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“However, we would argue if parents are already inclined to protect their infant children from the main form of meningococcal disease, then parents would similarly want to ensure their adolescent children are protected. Protection against meningococcal disease is not life-long and people aged 13-25 are the next highest at-risk group, particularly those in close-living situations.

“We believe the current eligibility criteria are far too restricted and confusing. For those who fall outside of the current eligibility criteria the significant cost of purchasing the vaccine through a GP or medical centre is prohibitive. As a result, many of our rangitahi are falling through the cracks and are at risk of contracting meningococcal disease. This may result in lifelong disabilities or potentially death,” he says.

On 1 March 2023, Pharmac began funding the meningococcal B vaccine (MenB or Bexsero) for all children up to 12 months of age (with a relevant catch-up programme), and for 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).

Close living situations include boarding school hostels, tertiary education halls of residence, military barracks, and prisons. Once the MenB catch-up programme expires on 28 February 2024, only those people in their first year in a specified close living situation will be eligible for the free vaccine. The access criteria are the same as those for the funded meningococcal ACW&Y vaccine, which requires two doses, eight weeks apart.

Gerard Rushton says the confusing eligibility criteria has resulted in a lack of understanding about who can receive the free MenB and MenACWY vaccines, meaning youth are missing out on being properly protected against a devastating and life-limiting disease.

“We know the new Government has agreed to increase funding to Pharmac, and we urge it to prioritise ways it can support Pharmac to make sure funding is available for MenB and MenACWY vaccination programmes for ALL young people between the ages of 13 and 25,” he says.

“There have been 58 cases of meningococcal disease so far this year, which is only marginally down on 2022 despite the significant increase in vaccinations administered. We have the means and the opportunity to eliminate meningitis in New Zealand, we just need the Government to take the steps to achieve it.”

Comparison of vaccination rates:

1 September 2022 to 1 March 2023 v 1 March 2023 to 31 August 2023

   
Age Group Time period Vaccinations 
Under 12 months 1 September 2022 to 1 March 2023 424 
 1 March 2023 to 31 August 2023 51,376 
12 months to 5 years 1 September 2022 to 1 March 2023 912 
 1 March 2023 to 31 August 2023 122,050 
13 – 25-year-olds 1 September 2022 to 1 March 2023 808 
 1 March 2023 to 1 August 2023 9,612 

Data source: Te Whatu Ora, supplied 23 November 2023

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis in adults and children are:

  • A stiff, sore neck.
  • A sensitivity to light, or a dislike of bright lights (an early warning sign of meningitis).
  • A severe headache.
  • If the child or adult is difficult to wake, or in a drowsy and confused state.
  • A fever, sometimes accompanied by cold hands and feet.
  • Aching sore joints.
  • Vomiting – a common symptom of meningitis in both children and adults.
  • Convulsive fits or seizures is characteristic of meningitis.

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