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Meningitis Foundation Presents Critical Case For Funded Vaccination To Parliament’s Health Committee Tomorrow

Published: Tue 25 Oct 2022 03:07 PM
The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand has sent a delegation of representatives to Parliament this week, ahead of making a critical presentation to Parliament’s Health select committee.
The Foundation will be making an oral submission to Parliament’s Health committee on Wednesday 26 October. The submission is a critical component of the Foundation’s campaign calling on Parliament to make two currently available vaccines, which cover the most common strains of meningococcal disease, free for all young people.
In March 2022, the Meningitis Foundation presented a petition to Dr Shane Reti, National Spokesperson for Health, signed by 6,357 New Zealanders. The petition urges the Government to fund both meningococcal vaccines for the most common strains of meningococcal disease – the B and A, C, W, & Y strains – for all 16-year-olds before they leave school.
There have already been 55 cases of invasive meningococcal disease reported in New Zealand so far this year, including several deaths. Seventy per cent of those cases are Māori and Pasifika.
The most recent case occurred in North Dunedin last week, and the Meningitis Foundation’s Pete Rowlands says that New Zealand’s progress in the fight against Meningitis is well behind other vaccine preventable diseases – and well behind other OECD nations.
“Meningitis outbreaks are associated with substantial cost to society, and a significant burden on communities due to the cost associated with the prevention of secondary cases,” he says.
Pete says that the Government has already committed to defeating meningitis by 2030, at the World Health Organisation’s World Health Assembly in November 2020. Despite that, he says, little progress seems to have been made in the last two years.
Pete and his wife Helen were devastated after losing their 16 our son Gareth to meningococcal septicaemia in 2003, and in 2016 they faced the terrible disease again when their daughter, Sian, was diagnosed with viral meningitis in 2017 at the age of 32.
“It is vital that Parliament unanimously supports provision of the meningococcal B and ACWY vaccines as part of a vaccination programme for all college students prior to leaving education by the age of 16,” he says.
“We already know there is a significant risk of epidemic outbreaks in countries who do not have a national vaccination programme. The Government must act immediately and demonstrate how seriously it is taking its commitment to promises made in 2020.
The Meningitis Foundation’s chairperson, Gerard Rushton, says medical advice received by the Foundation indicates another epidemic is on the horizon.
“Treatment often comes too late, and a patient can die within 24 hours. We need to be proactive as prevention is more effective than treatment. The protection of our whānau through a comprehensive vaccination programme to defeat this disease lies squarely with the Government.
“Overseas data shows that vaccination works. New Zealanders are 2.5 times more likely than Australians, and 25 times more likely than an individual in the USA to contract meningococcal disease.
More than 80% of Aotearoa’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19, which has a mortality rate of 0.17%. By comparison, the mortality rate for meningococcal disease in 2019 was 7.2%.
For those who survive, the consequences are severe and lifelong: in 2015 a French study estimated the life-long cost of care could reach up to NZD$3.9 million.
Gerard Rushton says that the life-long cost of care for a single survivor could cover the cost of a vaccination programme.
“By our calculations, based on 60,000 births per year, a vaccine which we estimate the Government could purchase for around $50 per dose would enable a vaccination programme to be implemented at the equivalent cost of life-long care for one survivor. If the Government wishes to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, the answer is a straight-forward one,” he says.
The present meningococcal ACW vaccination programme excludes the most deadly form of meningitis – meningococcal B. Vaccination rates set by the Government have failed to reach their target.
Reported uptake in universities and boarding schools is extremely low, and the most at-risk groups in Aotearoa, Māori and Pasifika, are 4 – 5 times more likely to contract the disease and are disproportionately disadvantaged by the narrow criteria of the current ACW vaccination programme.
Gerard Rushton says there is a lack of awareness throughout both the wider community and with medical professionals about the need for vaccination, and who is eligible under the existing vaccination programme.
Gerard and his wife Claire, also a member of the Meningitis Foundation board, lost their beloved daughter Courtenay to meningitis in 2014.
Claire Rushton says her daughter Courtenay’s story will be echoed amongst other families if determined efforts are not made to eliminate meningitis. She has a powerful message to members of the Health committee:
“It has taken a very long time for us to remember Courtenay without the associated pain and trauma, for the girl she actually was and, in our hearts, still is – a vibrant, beautiful, fit and clever young person who had so much to offer the world,” she says.
“Courtenay’s death was preventable. It is no longer acceptable for the Government to continue placing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff – hospital emergency departments are already under a huge amount of pressure. Prevention must come before treatment.”

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