Health experts have said more needs to be done to vaccinate young people against meningococcal disease and are calling on the government to fill important gaps in the current program.
Meningococcal disease causes two very serious diseases: meningitis; an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord and septicemia; a blood poisoning.
Young children and young adults are at high risk for the disease, which has dangerously similar symptoms to the common flu.
Meningococcal rates have been on a steady slope for nearly a decade, with 139 cases and 10 deaths in 2019.
Those rates are higher than in many other OECD countries, according to the Meningitis Foundation.
Foundation Director Andrea Brady said there are significant numbers of people in high-risk groups and settings without access to vaccines.
The government expanded its vaccination program in 2019 to include more high-risk people.
Currently, those between the ages of 13 and 24 in boarding schools, college halls, the military, or in prison are eligible to be immunized against some strains for free.
But this doesn’t cover enough people, health experts say.
“For example, there is nothing that protects students who live in shared houses who would be in their first, second or third year of college, or young people who do not go to university but still live indoors with other people. , or those in multigenerational households, “Brady said.
Private vaccines against the two common strains, meningococcal B and W, are available, but can cost up to $ 400.
Miwa Chapman, a University of Canterbury student who died last year of meningococcus, was living in an apartment with her friends when she contracted the disease.
Her father, Paul Chapman, said that although she was not eligible for the free vaccination, if there had been more awareness, she would not have hesitated to pay for a vaccine.
“It is not a fair situation, both financially and conscientiously. In my opinion, it is necessary to create funds to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated if they are in that vulnerable group. You cannot tell yourself, already You know, my son is healthy, so he should be fine. Meningitis can affect any of these youngsters at any time. “
Tarsha Boniface, who lost her 18-year-old daughter in 2018, said seeing more deaths each year from the disease is a heartbreaking and frustrating cycle.
“Every year we have to relive it. Every year we see a story emerge and it breaks our hearts again,” he said.
The Meningitis Foundation has asked the government for a comprehensive vaccination program, which would allow all 16-year-olds to be vaccinated before they finish high school.
The Immunization Counseling Center echoed the call, saying that a comprehensive program is the only way to ensure that those who fall within the gaps of current systems can be protected.
Its chief medical officer, Dr. Nikki Turner, said there are equity issues that need to be reduced.
“We know from international programs that when you use it throughout the community, it reduces back-of-the-throat transportation incidents. Therefore, it offers more community-wide protection rather than individual protection. [of those vaccinated]”Said Dr. Nikki Turner.
He said the launch of the previous vaccination for the meningitis epidemic between 2004 and 2007, which took place in schools, was a success.
Many of the infants and toddlers vaccinated in the program are now back into a high-risk age group, but are no longer protected by their previous vaccination.
While meningococcal cases have declined in the wake of Covid-19, Dr. Nikki Turner said that won’t last long.
“We hope to see, again, that meningococcal rates will start to rise once we reopen our borders. Therefore, we must be prepared for this.”