Parents offer cash to beat queue for vaccinations

By RENEE KIRIONA

People are clamouring for the vaccine against meningococcal B disease, and some are offering hundreds of dollars for a vaccination.

Health authorities have been swamped with calls from people who will not qualify for the first immunisations.

Some live outside the areas chosen for the vaccination drive, others are above the age considered most at risk.

Public attention has been drawn to the epidemic by 7-month-old Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman, who has lost her lower arms and legs, and 10-month-old Sakiusa "Junior" Uluvula, who has lost his legs and right arm to the disease.

Counties Manukau District Health Board spokeswoman Lauren Young said the board had been inundated with calls from adults willing to pay up to $300 for the vaccine.

"It shows that people are becoming very receptive to the vaccine and that's great news, but the medicine is not for sale and must first go to those who are most vulnerable," she said.

Since 1991, the disease - which leads to infection of the bloodstream or swelling of the brain and spinal cord - has killed 220 New Zealanders - 80 per cent of them children - and maimed hundreds more.

Dr Nikki Turner, of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at Auckland University, said her organisation had received calls from anxious parents and health professionals.

"Some parents have said they will pay for it, that money is not an issue," she said.

"Others are particularly worried about their newborns, those babies younger then six months who aren't eligible for it."

The $200 million project begins on Monday when the vaccine will be made available to those aged between six months and 19 years living in Franklin, Papakura, Manukau, Mt Wellington, Penrose and Glen Innes.

The Government has enough vaccine to immunise about 140,000 children in the target areas.

Last week it placed a second order which it hoped would be ready by November to distribute to children in other parts of the Auckland region, Waitemata and Northland.

Health Minister Annette King said she knew that some people were disappointed by the eligibility rules for the vaccination.

"The most crucial thing is to get it to those groups who are most affected. If we sold the vaccine then it wouldn't be going to those who are most vulnerable.

"I'm sorry, but even those who are wealthy and those who want to buy it will just have to wait."

But that is not good enough for Sara Martin, of the North Shore, who has had the disease.

"I can't see why it shouldn't be made available to anyone who wants it. If I could buy it I would be willing to pay more than $200. I don't want to go to hell and back again."

The Ministry of Health was advised to give young people vaccination priority by epidemic experts, including the World Health Organisation, as they were most likely to get the disease.

Meningococcal Immunisation Programme spokeswoman Victoria Moss, said stocks of the vaccine were limited because it was not available elsewhere in the world and took time to make.

The project will start with parents of children aged 6 months to 5 years being contacted by their GPs, and school-age children being sent home with consent forms.

The vaccine is expected to reach children living in other areas of the country by the middle of next year.

Dr Turner said she assumed that adults would most probably have to wait until it reached the private market.

Herald Feature: Meningococcal Disease

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