By Amy Wiggins
Kiwi babies will again be safe from the life-threatening complications associated with severe forms of tuberculosis with a new supply of the vaccine available for the first time in more than two years.
A world wide shortage of the Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccine, caused by delays at the manufacturing facility, meant it had not been available in New Zealand since early 2016.
Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said 35,000 doses of the vaccine had recently arrived in the country and had been distributed throughout.
Tomorrow the Auckland Regional Public Health Service will run its first vaccination clinic since the global shortage put the programme on hold in May 2016.
The vaccine would not prevent a person from becoming infected, rather it protected children from developing severe forms of the disease such as meningeal tuberculosis (which affects the brain) or miliary tuberculosis (which is spread throughout the body).
Medical Officer of Health Dr Lavinia Perumal said more than 2000 parents had been in touch wanting the vaccine for their child since news of the new batch.
But, she said, the vaccine was only necessary for babies at high risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB).
“Not all children will need the BCG vaccination. In New Zealand it is given to protect young children most at risk of the complications of TB if it spreads beyond their lungs throughout the body or involves the brain,” Perumal said.
“The vaccine is for babies who may be exposed to TB through someone living with them, or because they are to be taken to live in a country with high rates of TB.”
She said babies under six months old were first priority because they were most vulnerable.
here would be a wait for babies over six months but the health service was confident it now had enough to cover the region for the next year.
Pharmac said there was enough stock to accommodate a high uptake in the vaccine and more was due to arrive early next year.
Children under 5 were eligible for the vaccine if they lived in a household or with whanau where anyone had a current or past history of TB, or lived in a country where TB was common within the last five years.
That includes most of Asia, Africa, South America, Russia and the former Soviet states, and some Pacific nations.
Babies being taken to live in any of those countries for longer than three months were also eligible for the vaccination.
Playing it safe
Eight-week-old Bryan Wang was the fist Auckland baby to receive the BCG vaccine since the shortage.
He was given the injection today, ahead of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service clinic tomorrow.
Mother Huie Chen told the Herald she asked about the vaccination when her son was born but was told there was still none in the country.
So, as soon as she heard new stock was coming in, she jumped online to register.
The decision to vaccinate was easy, she said.
“Our family is from China … China is a high risk country so I think it’s better that he get vaccinated.”
Chen said they planned to visit family in China and wanted to make sure their baby was as safe as possible.
What is tuberculosis?
TB is an airborne infectious disease which causes tiredness, coughing, fever and shortness of breath. It can be cured, but it involves a long time on strong antibiotics.
Source: NZ Herald