Meningococcal B vaccination scrapped

Apr 14, 2008 6:39 PM

Health officials are scrapping the mass vaccination of New Zealanders
against the deadly meningococcal b disease. The campaign cost $220
million and resulted in more than a million people being vaccinated.

Charlotte Cleverly-Bisman contracted meningococcal b just before the
vaccine was introduced. She survived but suffered multiple
amputations and her story has been used to raise awareness. But
health officials now claim they have broken the back of the deadly
epidemic. "We are seeing a decline in what could have been a 30-year
epidemic and we don't need to keep that mass immunisation campaign
going," says Dr Fran McGrath of the Health Ministry. It is claimed
the epidemic peaked seven years ago with 370 cases of the b strain.
The figures had already halved before the vaccine was introduced in
2004. And since then, it has dropped dramatically to just 47 cases
last year. "Their own evidence released today shows quite clearly
that the vaccine had no impact at all," says Ron Law, a risk and
policy analyst. "And in fact if you look at the deaths which they
haven't released, the deaths from meningococcal remain static ever
since the campaign was introduced." McGrath says the ministry could
have waited but didn't. "But the decision was made to be decisive and
to intervene to cut short this epidemic," she says. Others say the
raw data should be independently audited. "It was really an
experiment and we need therefore to be quite sure has it worked or
hasn't it? And until we get that official data, we just don't know "
says Sue Kedgley, Green Party health spokeswoman. Forty six people
have got the disease despite being fully immunised. One child died.
"Two hundred and, well they say 250 million, to save one to two lives
- it's a major policy blunder," says Law. Health officials say we
must continue to be vigilant. "Meningococcal continues to exist in
our community. This isn't the only bacteria that causes it so we do
have to stay alert to it," says McGrath. And pre-schoolers who have
already started their course of shots should still complete it.
Children under five who have only been given one dose of the vaccine
by June 1 will be able to have their boosters provided they have them
by December 31 .