Officials praise meningococcal B vaccine coverage

The meningococcal B vaccination campaign is on time, within budget and showing positive signs of protecting children from the deadly disease, the Health Ministry says.

Ministry officials presented a glowing report on the $200 million immunisation programme, which has been running more than a year, to Parliament's health select committee yesterday.

The briefing was an opportunity to respond to attacks on the programme by researcher Ron Law, freelance journalist Barbara Sumner Burstyn and others.

Programme director Jane O'Hallahan said almost 1.7 million doses of the vaccine had been given to children, and high vaccination coverage had been achieved in areas at greatest risk.

Safety monitoring groups had not raised concerns about the vaccine and, responding to "unfounded" allegations made by Mr Law, she emphasised no child deaths had been linked to it.

In the Counties Manukau District Health Board area, where the programme has been running the longest, latest figures showed rates of meningococcal disease among children aged under five had halved in the year since the vaccine was introduced.

There had been no cases of the epidemic B strain, which the vaccine was designed to combat, in this age group since January this year.

Dr O'Hallahan said the programme needed to work on improving vaccine up-take for the under-five age group, people aged 17 to 20 and Maori, and to make sure children received all three doses of the vaccine rather than dropping out after the first or second injection.

A small number of mainly middle-class Pakeha parents had been "turned off" the third dose because of misinformation spread by anti-vaccination groups, she said.

"The unfortunate result of that is that some children will remain unprotected."

Rates of refusal of the vaccine varied between 5 per cent to 12 per cent around the country.

Mr Law said the ministry had no evidence for its claims that vaccinations had led to a fall in cases in Counties-Manukau.


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