Dispute over meningococcal B vaccine risks goes on

By Martin Johnston

By MARTIN JOHNSTON

Central Auckland's 25,000 preschoolers will today start being vaccinated against meningococcal B disease, as questions are raised over the safety of the injections.

The Health Ministry says the vaccine targeting the main New Zealand strain of the disease is safe.

But the Immunisation Awareness Society and the Vaccination Alternatives Society are questioning the safety of the MeNZB vaccine.

In a $200 million project, the Government aims to vaccinate 90 per cent of New Zealand's 1.1 million people under the age of 20. Those in Counties Manukau and Auckland City suburbs at higher risk of the disease were the first to receive the vaccine, starting in July.

The programme reached North Shore preschoolers last Monday and comes to central Auckland today.

Children aged between 6 months and 5 years can receive the jabs from their GP. The vaccine is not yet approved for younger babies.

Northland preschoolers will start on November 22. School-based vaccination of school-aged children in central Auckland and on the North Shore will start in March.

The Alternatives Society has held three public meetings since the vaccination campaign began, each attended by 70 to 250 people.

The Awareness Society's principal researcher, Sue Claridge, said she had been told of several cases of bad reactions to the vaccine, including a school child taken by ambulance to hospital after suffering a seizure and a 20-month-old with a high temperature, unable to walk and screaming in pain when his leg was moved.

"This vaccine is highly reactive. We know that a lot of those reactions were not reported."

She said doctors and vaccinators were fobbing off parents who wanted to record adverse reactions. But the ministry said parents could report reactions and at least one had.

The Health Research Council's independent safety monitoring board said it found no issues of concern during the first two months, when more than 140,000 doses of the vaccine were injected.

Two cases of the blood disorder thrombocytopenia were recorded in people who had been vaccinated, but the vaccine was not necessarily the cause. Three people had fever-related seizures within four days of vaccination, but they all also had a respiratory or ear infection.

Otago University's Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring received 88 reports of adverse events to September 24, none of which were life-threatening.

Clinical trials on the vaccine found a range of possible side-effects, including that about 10 per cent of children will suffer vomiting or diarrhoea and a quarter of all patients will develop a headache.

But University of Auckland paediatrician Professor Diana Lennon said most of the vomiting and diarrhoea was probably caused by things other than the vaccine.

Severe allergic reactions, nerve damage and chronic fatigue syndrome were reported by some adults or adolescents given the Norwegian vaccine which is the "parent" of the New Zealand vaccine. But these side-effects were rare, occurring in no more than one in 10,000 patients.

Side-effects

* Side-effects linked to the New Zealand meningococcal B vaccine include:

* Swelling at the injection site in up to 34 per cent of patients.

* Irritability in 49 per cent of infants and 41 per cent of toddlers.

* Headache in nearly a quarter of children and adults.

* Convulsion linked to high fever "very rarely" - in less than one in 10,000 patients. This kind of convulsion is generally considered harmless.


Herald Feature: Meningococcal Disease

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