Epidemic should help vaccination: expert
By Gail Goodger
The severe consequences of meningococcal disease would hopefully prompt parents to get their children vaccinated, despite the country’s dangerously low general vaccination rate, a Dunedin academic said.
Because the disease was at epidemic proportions, people could see its “nasty” consequences and were more likely to get their children vaccinated, University of Otago immunologist Associate Prof Glenn Buchan said.
Research suggests only about 60% of New Zealand children are fully immunised by age 2 against diseases such as whooping cough and mumps, when 80% to 90% need to be protected to prevent epidemics.
Prof Buchan said while those diseases could also be fatal and have lifelong consequences, they had almost been eradicated, so people had become complacent.
But the consequences of meningococcal disease were still highly visible.
A $200 million meningococcal-vaccine programme starts next month and should begin in Otago in mid-2005.
The Ministry of Health said the disease had affected about 400 people a year since the epidemic had begun in 1991, with about 80 cases in every 100 caused by the group B strain, for which the vaccine has been developed.
The Institute of Environmental Science and Research said 285 Otago people had contracted the disease since 1991, including 14 who had died.
Ministry meningococcal-vaccine strategy director Dr Jane O’Hallahan said the aim was to reduce cases by about 70%. If the vaccine had not been developed, the epidemic could have continued for another 10 years, based on a similar epidemic in Norway in the 1980s. — ODT Jul 09, 2004