A Whangārei family have raised concerns about Northland's meningococcal W vaccine programme after they were only told their 15-month-old son would need a $150 booster when the needle was in his arm.
That's despite Northland District Health Board (NDHB) saying one dose was sufficient because the programme was in response to an outbreak. And if the family were told that, it was a misunderstanding.
Three Northland deaths from the meningococcal W strain prompted a mass vaccination campaign by NDHB, aimed at immunising children and youths aged 9 months to under 5 years and 13 to under 20 years.
Whangārei mum Ana Jones went to a vaccination clinic at Whangārei Girls High School - one of the many set up as part of the campaign - to get her then 15-month-old son immunised in December last year.
"As we were getting the injection the nurse said because of his age he needed a booster but I needed to go to the GP in three months time and it would cost $150.
"At the time you're like 'anything for my kid' but when you think about it you're like 'oh my god, it's only for people who can afford it'. This is not good," she said.
Dr Jose Ortega Benito, NDHB Medical Officer of Health, said the immune system of children aged 9 months to 23 months was still developing and a booster had been shown to increase their level of antibodies to similar of those of an older age.
He said while a second dose - three months after the first - is recommended for under 2s, because the meningococcal W campaign was a community outbreak response - which occurs when the incidence of a condition within a community is higher than normal - experts clearly stated that one dose was sufficient to provide a safe level of immunity.
"Children aged 9 to 23 months were given the dose and if any booster was to be considered, we had to wait at least three months at least, by which time we hoped the outbreak would be over."
He said action needed to be taken to contain the spread and decrease the risk of people getting meningitis.
Jones said if that was the case, communication around boosters needed to be clearer.
"They need to keep their messages consistent to all the people administering the vaccines then, that would be great."
When asked what the DHB advised nurses tell parents about boosters Benito said:
"All nurses were briefed about the vaccination techniques and the advice to be given to parents/carers, which can be checked on our website."
Jones said the reason she vaccinated her son was so he would have immunity against Men W, so she was prepared to pay for the booster.
However when the family went to their GP to get it done, they were told the clinic had been trying for two weeks to get the vaccine and any stock it did have was earmarked for the DHB's vaccination programme.
The family have written to the DHB outlining their concerns about the funding, and the availability of the vaccine, but are yet to receive a response.
Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti, who started an online petition with Northland MP Matt King calling for the government to vaccinate all Northlanders under 20, said the Ministry of Health should fund the booster.
"You declared an outbreak, you implemented a vaccination programme, you are morally obliged to complete that vaccination programme through to its maximum effectiveness and if that means boosters - so be it, there needs to be boosters."
Benito said The Ministry of Health is considering whether the meningococcal vaccination will be added to the national immunisation schedule.
If it is, the Northland children who received one dose through the outbreak campaign will be given a booster.