By: Derek Cheng

About half of the eligible children and young people have been vaccinated against the virulent meningococcal strain MenW in the Government’s urgent programme to combat the outbreak in Northland.

But there have been no new cases of MenW since the outbreak was declared in November.

The outbreak followed seven confirmed cases of MenW in Northland last year, out of 29 nationwide cases. Three of those cases in Northland died.

The Ministry of Health obtained 25,000 vaccines for the urgent programme, which began on December 5.

It aimed to vaccinate children aged between nine months and under 5 years old, and young people aged between 13 and under 20 – but Northland DHB acknowledged that it would be a challenge to reach the 22,707 eligible people over the summer holiday period.

Jeanette Wedding, Northland DHB general manager of public health services and district hospitals, said about 11,000 of those eligible had now been vaccinated.

“As of 21 December, 2018, the number of children immunised was 10,515.”

She said 5035 of those were in the age group from 9 months to under 5 years, while 5480 were from the age group from 13 to under 20.

Vaccinations continued over the Christmas period and the estimate of how many have been immunised is about 11,000, she said.

“There have been no further cases of MenW in Northland since the decision to implement the community outbreak campaign in November 2018,” Wedding said.

At the end of last year, Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain told Parliament’s health select committee that it was worrying children aged between 6 and 12 were going to miss out, but noted the expert opinion to target the two selected age groups.

He hoped that if there were any remaining vaccine supplies after the programme ended, they would be used on the children not in the targeted age ranges.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said there were currently no plans to treat children between 6 and 12 inclusive, but the ministry would seek further advice “should the need arise in future”.

A Technical Advisory Group recommended vaccinating children under 5 because they are generally the most affected by meningococcal disease, while 13 to under 20-year-olds generally carry the bacterium that causes the disease.

The TAG also said that it was ideal for two doses of vaccine Menactra for those aged 9 months to two years, though one dose would provide “some protection”.

Wedding said that there were currently no plans to administer a second dose of Menactra to those who had already been given one dose.

She said the second stage of the programme, which had a particular focus on reaching young people aged 13 to under 20, was now underway.

Pharmacies were offering vaccinations across Northland, and from January 21 additional DHB community clinics will be established, which may include Māori providers.

“We know that many of our young people haven’t been vaccinated yet so we are working closely with youth organisations and employers to increase the uptake,” Wedding said.

“This is important because this is the age group that generally carries the bacterium that causes the disease. Even if they have no symptoms, carriers can infect those around them.”

The speed with which the programme was set up has been criticised, after Northland DHB microbiologist David Hammer warned colleagues about the rise in MenW cases in May last year.

The Ministry of Health has defended the response time, saying the outbreak was only confirmed on November 8, and it then took time to secure the doses – as both Australia and the US were dealing with outbreaks – and develop the programme.

Source: NZ Herald


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