Vaccine officials ask parents not to jump queue

By Ainsley Thomson

By AINSLEY THOMSON

Health authorities are pleading with parents not to jump the queue to get their children immunised against meningococcal disease and deny those children more at risk.

But they admit they can do little to stop those not eligible trying to get their children vaccinated at clinics in high-risk areas.

The first stage of the $200 million immunisation programme begins on Monday, but is available only to children under 5 in the high-risk areas of South and East Auckland.

It will be extended to children in other parts of Auckland and New Zealand late this year or next year.

Immunisation guidelines say children under 5 who are enrolled with a GP in the targeted area, but live in an area now ineligible, will be able to get the vaccination.

This means parents anxious to get their child immunised could try to enrol with a GP in South or East Auckland. It would be up to the doctor to accept or reject the new patient.

Dr Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said it would be a challenge for South and East Auckland doctors to make sure the vaccine went to children most at risk.

"They won't cope if they have too many outsiders."

Counties Manukau District Health Board communications manager Lauren Young said a limited amount of vaccine was available, and it needed to go to the children most at risk.

"If we get a kid from Remuera going into a practice in Otara they are taking the vaccine away from a little kiddy who is at much, much higher risk. I think New Zealanders will play fairer than that."

Health professionals have been inundated with calls from parents anxious to get their children immunised. Some were willing to pay up to $300 for the vaccination.

Since the cases of 7-month-old Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman and 10-month-old Sakiusa "Junior" Uluvula - who both have had major surgery - parental awareness and fear of the disease has grown.

The eligibility guidelines have a flipside - a GP practising outside South or East Auckland will be unable to administer the vaccine to his or her patients who live in the eligible area.

Dr Anton Wiles, who has a surgery in Remuera, said up to 100 of his patients were from South Auckland and were entitled to be immunised from Monday.

But he would not be able to administer the injections because his surgery was not in the target area.

The Ministry of Health confirmed this, saying the location of the surgery determined whether it would be able to give vaccinations, not where its patients came from.

Dr Wiles said his surgery had received little information about the vaccination and found out it could not administer it to South Auckland patients only when they checked the matter themselves. "There looks like there has been a major failure with implementing it," he said.

Manurewa GP Dr Conrad Surynt said his clinic would not turn away patients from other areas unless the numbers placed pressure on vaccine and staff resources.

If that happened, the clinic would refuse the vaccine to anyone but patients on its database.

There was nothing to prevent people lying about their address because the clinic would only find out once a vaccine reimbursement claim was refused.

The Ministry of Health is urging parents living in the eligible area not to rush on Monday to get their children immunised because many GPs will not have the vaccine. A ministry spokesman said it would take at least four weeks for the vaccine to be available at all the GPs' surgeries and clinics.

Herald Feature: Meningococcal Disease

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