2019 was a test of Pharmac and the vaccination system and across three infectious disease outbreaks Pharmac failed miserably.
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Meningitis was of serious concern at the start of 2019. After seven notifications and the death of three children Northland was a declared meningitis outbreak area.
The Ministry of Health was told there weren't enough vaccines and so they formed a programme that vaccinated infants and teenagers but not 5 to 12-year-olds, there simply wasn't enough vaccines.
However, this turned out not to be true when Pfizer identified they had offered 30,000 vaccines to Pharmac and never heard back from them. Put simply, Pharmac knew there were enough vaccines but never told the minister, the director general of health, the director of public health or anyone at the ministry who was forming the Northland vaccination campaign until after it was signed off.
Pharmac even had three meetings with the ministry to form the campaign and never said a word. Why would you do that? Even if, as Pharmac contends, vaccinating everyone wasn't cost effective, a contestable statement, there was at least an obligation to tell the people forming the campaign that there were enough vaccines available.
In my view Pharmac played god. They put themselves above everyone else including the ministry, the minister and the parents of Northland children.
Influenza arrived in the middle of the year and New Zealand ran out of vaccines. Vaccines ran out not only because there was increased public uptake, which is a good thing, but because big Pharmac miscalculated the numbers.
Cynically, big PHARMA then tried to bill Pharmac for replacement vaccines to fix their own error. I want to acknowledge Whanganui DHB which wrote to the health select committee recently saying that over winter they deprioritised staff having the influenza vaccine so that the public could be vaccinated. Thank you for your sacrifice.
Measles was an epidemic that started in January and by the time it hit Auckland in March there had already been three formal outbreaks in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Canterbury.
In April the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF wrote to New Zealand health officials warning them of the spread of measles and making recommendations.
Minister Julie Anne Genter initially refused to release the WHO letter until pressured to do so in the house and then maintained a bizarre position that there was no issue with the supply of measles vaccine.
As I wrote at the time "you have to be joking minister". Measles vaccines ran so low that groups such as 30 to 50-year-olds were deprioritised. DHBs including Whanganui, West Coast, Nelson Marlborough and Canterbury have written to the health select committee recently confirming there was a shortage of measles vaccine.
We also exported measles to the US and tragically maybe had a role in the Samoa outbreak. The warning signs were there and we missed them and ran out of vaccine and vaccine ordering is a Pharmac responsibility.
We need to do better. Pharmac cannot answer to themselves and certainly cannot keep vaccine information secret during a serious outbreak.
Big PHARMA who miscalculate vaccine numbers need to be held accountable and our childhood vaccination rates need to be lifted. All of these are complex problems but not at all insurmountable.
• Dr Shane Reti is the MP for Whangārei.