By REBECCA WALSH
An anti-immunisation campaigner says parents need as much information as possible about the meningococcal vaccine before having their children immunised.
Sue Claridge, principal researcher and spokeswoman for the Immunisation Awareness Society, said there was a "climate of fear" and many parents felt vaccination was their only way to fight the disease.
The society, which had about 400 members, aimed to provide information people could not get through official channels, which were "so pro-vaccine". Ms Claridge said many parents were unaware that vaccinations were not 100 per cent effective and that not everyone developed immunity.
It was not known how long immunity lasted, or if there were long-term impacts.
"What's coming across from the Ministry of Health and through the media is that there's this disease out there randomly picking off kids and killing them or causing them to be disabled for life," she said.
"It's not like that. There's a very small percentage of people, 0.009 per cent of New Zealanders, get meningococcal disease each year. Of those the ministry says 4 per cent die. That's a really, really small percentage of people."
Since the epidemic began in 1991, the disease has made more than 5400 people sick and killed 220.
Ms Claridge said the $200 million being pumped into the nationwide vaccination programme would be better used addressing risk factors such as overcrowded housing, poverty and nutrition.
But Margie Fepulea'i, general manager of Pacific health for the Counties Manukau District Health Board, said that while the Government was addressing risk factors with initiatives such as housing projects, change would not happen immediately.
"This campaign is not instead of all those initiatives, it's as well as."
Dr Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said she had no question about whether to vaccinate her daughters, aged 10 and 11.
"Because it's an epidemic is the bottom line. Because the amount of bug in circulation in New Zealand is high enough to put my children at threat. I'm scared for my kids," she said.
Dr Turner said there could never be an "absolute assurance" the vaccine was completely safe, but there was enough international and New Zealand data to show it would be safe for most children. There might be a rare side-effect that had not been picked up in the clinical trials.
"Compared to the risk of this horrendous disease it's much, much safer."
People needed to know the vaccine would work in about 75 per cent of cases , and that it only worked against the epidemic group B strain of the disease.
Dr Turner said the vaccination would hurt. The area around the jab site would probably be red and sore. "The one thing you can say for that is at least you know your immune system is working and you are responding to the vaccine."
Professor Diana Lennon, principal investigator for the clinical trials, said further research following children from the trials would look at how long immunity lasted. If immunity levels fell, it might be necessary to consider booster shots.
Ms Claridge said she would not have her two children vaccinated and believed about 2 to 5 per cent of parents would do the same.
"I'm well aware of the symptoms, what to look for and that if I come across those symptoms I have to act very quickly. I balance that against knowing my children are really healthy and work really hard at keeping them healthy."
* Immunisations are not available from Plunket, as incorrectly reported in the Herald yesterday.
Who gets meningococcal disease:
* Anyone can get meningococcal disease but rates among Maori and Pacific people are much higher.
* For all ethnic groups the rate of disease is particularly high among children under 5 - each year more than half the meningococcal disease victims are in this age group.
* Babies are most susceptible because of their immature immune system.
* For every 100 meningococcal disease cases, 80 are in people aged 0-19 years.
* By the time they turn 5, one in every 117 Maori children, one in every 66 Pacific children and one in every 438 children of other ethnicities risks getting meningococcal disease.