NZ vaccine backed in run-up to TV programme

By Kate Chapman

Health officials are defending the need for meningococcal B immunisations ahead of a Norwegian-made documentary airing on TVNZ's Sunday programme this weekend.

The hour-long documentary raises concerns over the safety of the Norwegian vaccine on which the New Zealand vaccine is based. It claims there are severe side effects, including chronic fatigue syndrome, which causes pain, muscle weakness and loss of brain function, and myelitis, which causes paralysis of nerves.

Ministry of Health meningococcal B immunisation programme director Jane O'Hallahan said the documentary might cause "unwarranted alarm" as it did not give the full picture.

"We are aware that occasionally serious adverse affects do happen."

She explained that sore arms, fever and feeling generally unwell immediately after the injection were the most common affects, but they are outweighed by the benefits.

Dr O'Hallahan was interviewed for the documentary.

"The way I have been presented does not give a good representation of my answers," she said.

Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre and Royal College of General Practitioners spokeswoman Nikki Turner said the documentary is not based on medical science but works on anecdotal evidence and "pulling our heart strings".

"I have read the transcript, I am appalled ... It should be put in the drama classification."

But Immunisation Awareness Society spokeswoman Sue Claridge said the entire documentary should be screened and a full inquiry into the implementation of the immunisation programme conducted.

The ministry did not run phase three trials, the final stage of testing before wide public release, because the Norwegian trials showed the vaccine to be safe and efficient, she said.

"But, the vaccine given to children in New Zealand was not the one used in the trials," she said.

"Parents were unaware that they were providing their children with a highly experimental vaccine."

Miss Claridge said the trials in Norway proved there was a link between the use of the vaccine and chronic fatigue syndrome.

However, Dr Turner said the documentary did not give the figures of the un-vaccinated trial group which had a higher rate of severe adverse affects than those vaccinated.

Free meningococcal B immunisations were introduced in 2004 and are available to people aged between six weeks and 19 years.

The documentary screens on TV One at 7.30pm on Sunday.

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