Free vaccine call to save children

Parents have yesterday appealed to the Government to provide a free vaccine against a disease that can be deadly for infants.

A protest march yesterday to highlight the need for children to be protected from pneumococcal disease ended at Parliament steps.

Grieving mother Nicole Edgerton and supporters delivered a letter to the Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne asking politicians to consider making a new and potentially life-saving vaccine available to all families, not just those who could afford it.

Mrs Edgerton's daughter Presley died in 2004 of pneumococcal disease at the age of five weeks.

Presley's death prompted her parents Dean and Nicole to find a vaccine for their other child.

They found one in Australia which has almost wiped out the disease that maims and kills about 500 New Zealanders every year.

The Edgertons are supporting the campaign in the hope that other families will not suffer their grief.

Fiona Colbert, general manager of the Meningitis Trust which is spearheading the campaign, told the minister that the consequences of the disease could be serious and sometimes fatal.

Besides death, it could cause meningitis, pneumococcal pneumonia, bacteraemia and otitis media (middle ear infection) - all of which could cause serious disabilities.

The campaign asked Mr Dunne to put the pneumococcal vaccine Prevenar on the 2008 national immunisation schedule.

Decisions about the schedule will be made soon.

Ms Colbert said about 150 children under five got invasive pneumococcal disease every year.

Maori and Pacific Islander children were most at risk.

The group displayed 150 dolls in Parliament grounds to symbolise the affected children.

By World Health Organisation standards, the incidence of pneumococcal disease among Maori and Pacific Island children was "epidemic", she said. "There is a vaccine - Prevenar - available. However, it is now available to families via the private market and for many the cost [$400] makes it out of reach."

Joining the campaign was 2-year-old Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman, who has lost her limbs to meningococcal disease.

Ms Colbert said that though the vaccine was now available for children under two years, the Government should make it available to all relevant children - not just those considered to be at risk. "The Government should provide the vaccine free of charge through the national immunisation schedule."

Pneumococcal infection

* The bacterial infection is spread by airborne droplets that can cause fever, ear infections, blood poisoning, pneumonia and meningitis.

* The latter two are the most common occurrences, often accompanied by blood poisoning. Mortality rates among infants for pneumococcal meningitis are about 30 per cent.
- Immunisation Advisory Centre


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