2 Dec 2018

Scouts NZ warn parents of Northland meningococcal outbreak

6:54 am on 2 December 2018

The organisers of a large Scout camp in Northland this summer are alerting scouts and their parents to the meningococcal disease outbreak in the region.

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Parents of scouts are being encouraged to vaccinate their children ahead of the Northland gathering at New Year. Photo: 123RF

About 900 teenage girl and boy scouts from around New Zealand, Australia and as far away as the United Kingdom are expected for the two-week Venture gathering at Kaiwaka at New Year.

Northland DHB is targeting teenagers as a high-risk group in an emergency vaccination programme before Christmas, because they are more likely to carry the disease.

A 16-year-old Kerikeri scout Dion Hodder died of the infection in October, after attending a St John youth camp on Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

The strain involved, known as 'MenW' is new to New Zealand.

There have been 29 cases this year, six of them fatal, with three of those deaths in Northland since spring.

Scouts NZ events director Cory Lang said it was not up to the organisation to tell parents to vaccinate.

"Really it's up to the parents and our participants to make the call on it ...have we already been vaccinated? Do we believe vaccination is the right approach? Do we believe there's a risk? Our role is to make sure they're as informed as possible," he said.

Parents and scouts should go to the Northland DHB website for information on the new W strain of meningococcal disease, Mr Lang said.

There would be robust hygiene measures in place at the Kaiwaka event and a large health and welfare team, including doctors, he said.

Risk factors for teens include spreading meningococcal bacteria through drink-sharing and kissing, but Mr Lang said that would not be an issue for the Scouts.

"I would like to think not; that's not what we encourage and I can say that they are going to be so busy with activities, that will be the last thing on their minds," he said.

The vaccine for the new strain is in short supply globally, but Pharmac has managed to source 20,000 doses to be used in the Northland vaccination campaign starting on Wednesday 5 December.

Due to the limited supplies, the free vaccinations are for children aged nine months to five years, and for 13 to 19 years olds.

That leaves about 20,000 children in Northland in the five to 12 year-old age group who will miss out.

However, GP's would have limited supplies of the vaccine if people could afford it, about $120 a shot, the DHB said.

The DHB hoped more supplies would be available in the New Year.

Pediatrician Ailsa Tuck said in her family, one child was eligible for the free shots and two were not, but she planned to have them all vaccinated.

"That five to 12 age group will get a lot of protection through herd immunity if we successfully vaccinate the teens and the under-fives," she said.

"That is the best use, the most effective use of the vaccine supplies we do have and we would strongly urge all parents to get their children vaccinated."

Vaccination for previous strains of meningococcal disease would not be effective against the new W strain, the DHB said.

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