When Shona Whitehead found out most of the young people in her Hikurangi community group had not been vaccinated against the deadly meningococcal disease - she wanted to help.

Many families in the community were on high alert after 7-year-old local girl Alexis Albert died of meningococcal W last year. And with poverty affecting a number of people in the community, many could not afford to pay to immunise children.

Now the Hikurangi woman has set a goal to raise $20,000 by the end of April so children at Hikurangi School who are not eligible for free vaccinations because they are aged 5 to 12 - the age group not currently being funded - can be immunised before winter.

"Within my own community group there was quite a few parents who couldn't afford to get their children immunised.

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"Out of my 12 grandchildren I've got five that haven't been vaccinated - they're all within that age group. We all kind of live in poverty, I hate to say," she said.

From left: Ange Marsh holding 1-year-old Manaia, Shona Whitehead, Ani Hemara, Linda Vanstone, Paulette Crowther and Neil Crowther. Photo/Michael Cunningham
From left: Ange Marsh holding 1-year-old Manaia, Shona Whitehead, Ani Hemara, Linda Vanstone, Paulette Crowther and Neil Crowther. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Three Northland deaths from the meningococcal W strain prompted a mass vaccination campaign by Northland District Health Board (NDHB), aimed at immunising 22,707 children and youths aged between 9 months and 5 years, or 13 and 20 years.

Dr José Ortega, NDHB medical officer of health, said vaccinating the vulnerable young children (from 9 months to under 5 years) and the cohort of children who spread this disease the most (13 to under 20 years), stopped the spread of meningococcal disease across the entire community.

Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti and Northland MP Matt King's online petition calling for the government to vaccinate all Northlanders under 20, received 502 signatures and is now before a Parliamentary select committee.

Reti has supported Whitehead's goal and has offered to get the vaccines at absolute cost - about $90 - and also do the vaccinations himself.

"This particular school was the school that had the ineligible child - Alexis Albert, the 7-year-old who died - that's what makes this school, this area unique. It's high risk, high Māori population - all the areas at risk for meningitis," he said.

King also supported Whitehead's campaign but thought it was sad individuals had to fundraise for what he called a "basic right".

"The Government should have funded this," he said.

Shona Whitehead wants to raise $20,000 to vaccinate about 200 children. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Shona Whitehead wants to raise $20,000 to vaccinate about 200 children. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Whitehead believes there were about 200 children at Hikurangi School who were ineligible for free vaccinations, but was still working on getting exact figures.

She has received support from Healthy Hikurangi, a community trust, which will be the collecting and dispensing the funds.

Ange Marsh, a Hikurangi mother and founder of Wagon Mafia Car Club which woulkd support Whitehead with fundraising, has an 11-year-old daughter who was not eligible for free vaccinations, and a 1-year-old who was.

"If I lost one child who couldn't get vaccinated and the other was vaccinated so was fine, the Government would have hell to pay," she said.

Whitehead said the community was particularly worried because of Alexis' death, and because another boy who used to live in Hikurangi but had moved to Tauranga had also contracted the disease.

"In my own group, especially the ones with a high amount of children, they're concerned because they don't have the finances to get their children vaccinated," she said.

To donate to the fundraiser or help out visit facebook.com/HelpTheChildrenHikurangi