17 Nov 2017

UK vaccine expert talks NZ rethink

4:09 pm on 17 November 2017

A meningococcal disease vaccine used in New Zealand more than a decade ago is still providing protection, an expert says.

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Photo: 123rf

A British expert on vaccination, Andrew Pollard, advises the World Health Organisation and chairs the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. He has been in New Zealand as the Otago University Margaret Black Fellow.

Professor Pollard also chaired a committee that led to the introduction in the United Kingdom two years ago of a vaccine covering multiple strains of the meningococcal disease, for use in a childhood immunisation programme.

This vaccine, Bexsero, is credited with halving rates of the disease in the UK.

Professor Andrew Pollard.

Professor Andrew Pollard. Photo: Oxford Vaccine Group

The MeNZB vaccine was offered free in New Zealand between 2004 and 2006 to anyone under 20, to protect against an epidemic strain of the disease which was circulating here.

In New Zealand, the incidence of meningococcal disease is declining.

Routine immunisation of babies and preschoolers continued until June 2008 and immunisation of those at high risk until March 2011.

Professor Pollard told Nine To Noon that data supplied by the Ministry of Health in New Zealand has been analysed to see what happened since the MeNZB programme started.

"And we've seen certainly up to 2013 there's still good evidence of protection in the population, which is really good news, that those people who were vaccinated are still benefiting now even some years later."

Professor Pollard chaired a committee that recommended the UK introduce a vaccine programme in 2015. It was adopted, and it became the first country in the world to use Bexsero in a childhood immunisation schedule.

He said the programme had halved the rates of meningococcal B disease in children in UK.

"Meningococcus was the leading infectious cause of death in childhood, so it was our number-one priority for preventing infectious deaths in childhood in the UK."

The new vaccine contained not one strain of the disease but many, and had been shown to be 80 to 95 percent effective at preventing disease caused by strains that the vaccine should prevent.

He said he was not advising this country to review what it was doing; that would be up to New Zealand-based immunisation experts and depend on rates of disease here.

But, he added there was now a vaccine that can prevent disease caused by different strains of meningococcal disease.

"And that does I think for all countries raise the question of 'is there validity in reviewing whether this vaccine is appropriate'? And I think from a safety perspective that has to be looked at and we have now a lot of safety data in the UK, having given millions of doses."

The Immunisation Advisory Centre at Auckland University told RNZ authorities here are closely monitoring UK data on the Bexsero vaccine.

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