Last week I was very sad to hear of our first new Northland case of meningitis W this year.
This is the strain of meningitis that caused Northland to be declared an outbreak, a state that we are still in.
The outbreak was declared for all under 10-year-olds in Northland and one of the arguments I am fighting for is why then does the current meningitis vaccination programme stop at 4-year-olds?
The older teenagers from 13-19 years are also covered but what about the 5-12 year olds?
If the outbreak was declared for under-10s then at least we must be vaccinating for under-10s, but no, the Ministry of Health says they are ineligible. I think this is penny pinching and I will keep lobbying the Minister on behalf of all the concerned parents who have contacted me and for all of our Northland children.
I grilled the Minister in the house on why 5-12-year-old Northland children are ineligible and after avoiding responsibility for his actions he concluded with words to the effect, what the Ministry is doing must be working because there have been no new cases in Northland.
Well that argument has clearly failed with this first case and I am concerned that it has occurred before the high-risk winter months have even started.
I have discovered another part to this story that needs explaining. There is no money to vaccinate 5-12-year-old Northland children for meningitis but last year Winston Peters gave $10 million to New Guinea for a vaccination programme!
How can that be?
I understand our responsibilities to our Pacific neighbours but why should our Northland children miss out?
If this wasn't worrying enough things are actually worse. Once I had found this piece of information I then did further investigations and guess what, last year Winston Peters also gave $1 million to Fiji for a vaccination programme – a meningitis vaccination programme!
A million dollars for a meningitis vaccination programme in Fiji but we won't vaccinate Northland children for meningitis. Oh, and we had more cases of meningitis in New Zealand last year than Fiji did anyway.
I grilled the Minister of Health on these points and he avoided me by saying he has no responsibility for vaccination in other countries, meaning that it comes from Foreign Affairs and Winston Peters' budget and not health.
I don't actually care which budget it comes from. They won't vaccinate 5 to 12-year-old Northland children for meningitis but they will vaccinate children offshore for meningitis – that just doesn't seem right.
Maybe I am missing something but with a deadly disease like meningitis we have to pull out all the stops and I commend our District Health Board for following the instructions from Wellington as best as they can.
In the next week you will see a story of a local community who I have been working with and who have banded together to come up with a solution.
I shall let them tell their story.
Dr Shane Reti is MP for Whangārei