Pharmac confirmed last week that it had procured an additional 5000 doses of meningococcal ACWY vaccine, taking the total stock available for Northland's targeted three-week vaccination programme to 25,650 doses.

The vaccination programme began last week in response to what the Northland DHB described as a community outbreak of the W strain of the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease (Men W).

Northland residents aged from 9 months to under 5 years, and from 13 to under 20 years, are eligible for the free vaccination.

"Our aim is to build our population's immunity, and we can achieve this by ensuring that all of the eligible children are offered the vaccine over the next three weeks," said Jeanette Wedding, the DHB's general manager, Child, Youth, Maternal, Oral, Public Health Services and District Hospitals.

The groups that were eligible for free vaccinations had been targeted because children under 5 were generally most affected by meningococcal disease.

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The vaccine could not be given to babies under 9 months.

Teenagers were being targeted because that was the age group that generally carried the bacterium. Even if they did not display symptoms, carriers could infect others, the vaccination of that age group being aimed at lowering the number of carriers and stopping the spread of the disease.

The vaccination programme, which began on Wednesday, is due for completion on December 21. Clinic locations are on the Northland DHB website (www.northlanddhb.org.nz).

The DHB has emphasised the importance of seeking medical help immediately at the first sign of meningococcal disease systems by contacting the local hospital accident and medical or ED department, general practitioner or Healthline (on 0800 611-116).

Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, a stiff neck, a rash, drowsiness or irritability. Men W may not have the traditional symptoms, however, so urgent medical attention should be sought for any child who feels very unwell.

Private supplies of Meningococcal ACWY vaccine are separate from the publicly funded vaccines available for high-risk groups in Northland and nationwide. The suppliers of the private vaccines have reported high demand in recent weeks, and there have been intermittent local vaccine shortages.

Stocks of the vaccine may be limited due to global demand, but suppliers were doing what they could to secure more shots were available for the private market in New Zealand.

Meanwhile Pharmac was continuing to work with suppliers to procure more doses to enable the extension of free vaccinations to include 5- to 12-year-old children in Northland.

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