Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out the possibility of the Government extending free meningitis vaccines to children between 5 and 12 years in Northland for now.
Her comments followed an open letter Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti wrote to her in which he urged the government to vaccinate all Northland children in light of a meningitis outbreak in the region.
Only children aged nine months up to 5 and young people between 13 and 20 are eligible for free meningococcal W vaccines while 20,000 people between 5 and 12 in Northland miss out.
"The cost to vaccinate these 20,000 Northland children is the same as building 35 metres of road, less than half the length of a rugby field. Please vaccinate all Northland children. Meningitis doesn't ask their age," Reti said in his open letter.
Ardern confirmed receiving Reti's letter and said any MP should always feel free to raise issues with her directly.
However, yesterday at Waitangi she said her understanding was that vaccines for only two age groups that were presently covered would remain in place and that no new age groups would be added.
"There's high demand for meningococcal W vaccinations. We did well to be able to purchase the number that we have. We've rolled out a vaccination programme.
"That's been targeted at under-4s and then teenagers for the very reason under-4s are very vulnerable and teenagers tend to be carrying it. As a result, my understanding is at this point we've seen no new cases in Northland."
Two weeks ago, Reti and Northland MP Matt King launched a petition, which the National Party MPs hope to present to Parliament next week in a bid to urge the Ministry of Health to extend the campaign to the 5- to 12-year-olds.
"Many parents with ineligible children have contacted me who are desperate to have them vaccinated but they cannot afford the private cost of $110," Reti said.
"I was also contacted by a parent who had one child who was eligible for the meningitis vaccine and one child who was not. She said she could not choose which of her children could have a safer life and which child would not - so she vaccinated neither.
"This is a terrible position for parents to be in. The Government is choosing which children may be safe from Meningitis and which may not.
"It has argued there are not enough vaccines and that the expert group on the response didn't recommend vaccinating 5-12 year olds. This is simply not true."