Kaihu Valley School principal Sonia Simeon was upset when she realised her 16 pupils – all Maori and all deemed high-risk – would not be eligible for free meningococcal vaccinations despite an outbreak of the deadly disease.

Then she got angry. She felt she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if any of the kids caught meningococcal disease ”and I could have done something to prevent it”.

So she decided to get pro-active and asked the board of trustees at the decile 1 school, north of Dargaville, if it would pay for the jabs instead. And she was delighted when trustees agreed, saying the children’s health and safety was not something they could ignore.

The school ordered the vaccines from Dargaville Medical Centre and last week, vaccinators from Te Ha Oranga visited to immunise the children – at a cost to the school of $2240 – money directly from its coffers.

Three Northland deaths from the meningococcal W strain prompted a mass vaccination campaign by Northland District Health Board (NDHB), aimed at immunising 22,707 children and youths aged between 9 months and 5 years, or 13 and 20 years.

Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said the age groups were identified following clinical advice from its experts as well as the Ministry of Health.

She said under 5-year-olds were the group most affected once the disease spread, while 13- to 19-year-olds were most likely to be carriers of meningococcal disease, but have no symptoms.

Simeon said when she realised the 16 children at her school would miss out she was pretty upset.

”I thought our children were in that high risk group, Maori or Pacific Islands from lower socio economic backgrounds … 100 per cent of our children are Maori and I thought they are at risk and should have them.”

She said the board of trustees was right behind the idea and she hoped others would do the same.

”We have to be here for the whole child and look after their educational and health and well being and knowing our community I thought we can’t ask them to pay as they will not be able to afford it,” Simeon said.

“I was really quite upset about it all and though why are they deemed not worthy of getting one too?”

She said the cost of the jabs was quite a big expense for a small school and other things would have to give as a result.

”There’ll be no big school trip this year. And this week we’re camping in the school, rather than elsewhere, but we had to get them (immunised).”

NDHB said the intensive response to the meningococcal W outbreak in Northland ended on Friday, but it is continuing to hold outbreak vaccination clinics in secondary schools until March 8.

General practices and some pharmacies have been approached to continue offering a publicly funded vaccine in coming weeks. Details about which general practices and pharmacies will be providing a free vaccination service will be posted on the DHB website.

The DHB will complete a vaccine stocktake next week, which will determine what steps will be taken going forward.

Source: NZ Herald


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