An outbreak of meningococcal disease in Northland has some Bay of Plenty parents worried for their own children, but health officials say there is no change to vaccination recommendations locally.

Some Bay of Plenty medical centres had seen an increase in people inquiring about getting their children immunised against MenW, the strain of meningococcal disease that had killed six people nationwide.

The Ministry of Health had responded to the outbreak in Northland with a three-week targeted vaccination programme for children.

The programme meant stocks were low in other parts of the country, including the Bay of Plenty.

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Papamoa Pines Medical Centre travel nurse Jessie Waterhouse said there were two vaccines available in the Bay of Plenty that protected against MenW. The vaccines would also protect against other meningococcal groups known as A, C and Y.

However, a substantial amount of stock for this vaccination had been sent into the Northland region as it was the area of higher risk at this point of time, Waterhouse said.

"This is consequently causing a shortage of meningococcal vaccines for other areas in NZ including the Bay of Plenty," she said.

Waterhouse said there had been many inquiries about MenW since the outbreak, usually a couple of queries per day.

About 15 to 20 people had been given the vaccination in the past few weeks.

"We have thankfully been able to provide vaccinations to those requesting to have it," she said.

Dr Luke Bradford, GP at Fifth Avenue Family Practice and co-chairman at the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation, said there was a supply issue with the Menactra vaccine locally as stock was being diverted north, but the most important thing was for the Northland outbreak to be contained.

Dr Luke Bradford. Photo/ File
Dr Luke Bradford. Photo/ File

"We know herd immunity limits spread very well," Bradford said.

He said about 20 inquiries and bookings had been made for vaccinations against MenW in the past few weeks.

Bradford said the medical centre was able to get more vaccines on a case-by-case basis.

He said the medical centre usually kept Menactra back for university students who were going into shared accommodation in February, and there was some concern about supplying the vaccine to those students in the coming months.

"The guidance we have from public health and the ministry is to reassure at this point though we will vaccinate if and when we can get stock on request."

Tauranga mum-of-two Katherine Whittaker said mixed messages initially left her unsure on whether or not to immunise her young children from MenW.

Last month she rang Healthline to get advice on vaccinating her two children, aged 15 months and 3 years old.

"I was told new doses of the vaccine were available from tomorrow (November 30) and they were advising children under 5 to go get immunised if possible," Whittaker said.

She then rang her GP and was told the vaccination was not necessary and no stocks were available.

Since then, Whittaker had been in touch with Healthline again who said getting the vaccine was not necessary but to stay vigilant for the signs of meningococcal disease.

Whittaker said these mixed messages had left her confused and worried for her children.

"As a parent, you just want to be given a clear message," she said.

The Ministry of Health said there had been an increasing number of families requesting meningococcal vaccinations but outside Northland the recommended schedule should continue to be followed.

Medical officer of health for Toi Te Ora, Dr Jim Miller, said there was no meningococcal disease outbreak across the Bay of Plenty region.

The number of reported cases of meningococcal disease across the region remained within the expected range and three cases of MenW had been reported this year.

The most recent case of meningococcal disease in the region was in September, he said, and there had not been any recommendations to implement a vaccination programme for anyone outside Northland.

"Toi Te Ora Public Health continues to monitor the situation closely and follow up all cases of meningococcal disease in our region."

Miller said the outbreak was a timely reminder of meningococcal disease and its signs and symptoms.


Publicly funded (free) Meningococcal ACWY vaccine is available from general practices for people who meet the following criteria:

-Patients pre or post-splenectomy or with functional asplenia
-Patients with HIV, complement deficiency (acquired, including monoclonal antibody therapy against C5, or inherited) or who are pre- or post-solid organ transplant
-HSCT (bone marrow transplant) patients
-Patients following immunosuppression
-Close contacts of meningococcal cases

Meningococcal vaccines are recommended but not funded for the following people:

-Laboratory workers regularly handling meningococcal cultures
-Adolescents and young adults living in communal accommodation (eg, in a hostel or at boarding school, in military accommodation, in correctional facilities or in other long-term institutions)
-People who are travelling to high-risk countries (WHO/International travel and health) or before the Hajj.
Source: Ministry of Health