The father of a little girl who lost parts of her limbs to meningococcal disease says a harder-hittingcampaign is needed to encourage more New Zealanders to immunise their children.
Perry Bisman, whose daughter Charlotte lost the lower parts of all four limbs to meningococcal B last winter, has criticised the television advertisements promoting meningococcal B vaccine, saying they do not do enough to warn people about the dangers of the disease.
The ordeal turned Mr Bisman into an enthusiastic supporter of the vaccine against the strain of bacterium responsible for the majority of cases in New Zealand’s 14-year-long meningococcal B epidemic - the same strain that nearly killed his daughter.
Three doses of the vaccine can protect recipients from the deadly meningococcal B strain, but the television campaign promoting its use is too soft, he says.
"The feel-good feeling of the ads ... it’s not really getting the message across to people that it’s actually a serious disease."
The three Ministry-of-Health-funded television advertisements use the friendly faces of kids TV star Jason Fa’afoi and members of Auckland hip-hop band Nesian Mystik to promote the meningococcal B vaccine and warn that meningococcal B can cause meningitis, blood poisoning and death.
The advertisements should have more detail about the harm the disease can cause, said Mr Bisman, who has been disappointed by the uptake of the vaccine on Waiheke Island, where Charlotte lives.
Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme director Jane O’Hallahan said the advertising of therapeutic products was governed by Advertising Standards Authority codes and Medicines Act requirements. The advertising guidelines prohibit advertisements for therapeutic products from playing on people’s fears "without justifiable reason" and from suggesting that failing to the use the product will have "harmful consequences".
Dr O’Hallahan said she was encouraged by the uptake of the vaccine, but that with many people still unvaccinated, she expected to see an upswing in the number of meningococcal B cases as winter approaches. "It’s important that parents understand that it [immunity] requires three doses, six weeks apart. So it’s not instantaneous."
It can take up to 28 days after the third dose for immunity to fully develop.
* The meningococcal B epidemic has affected more than 5600 New Zealanders and claimed 227 lives.
* About 75 per cent of meningococcal cases are caused by the epidemic strain.
* More than 570,000 doses of the meningococcal B vaccine have been given to children aged 19 and under.
* In Counties Manukau, where the programme first began last July, coverage in the various age groups is as high as 85 per cent.
- HERALD ON SUNDAY