28 Dec 2018

Officials slow on Meningococcal W outbreak - MP

7:41 pm on 28 December 2018

The MP for Whangārei has accused the government of being slow on the meningoccal outbreak in Northland, making the vaccine roll-out programme less effective.

The queue outside the vax clinic at  Whangarei Girls High

The queue outside the vax clinic at Whangārei Girls High. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

There have been seven cases of Meningococcal W in Northland this year, and three of those patients died.

The government didn't act quickly enough, said National MP for Whangārei and GP doctor Shane Reti, after a memo released last Friday showed a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for Meningococcal W was not formed until 8 November.

That is despite the memo saying that "in the 14-week period starting 15 July 2018, the TAG agreed that there was a community outbreak of group W meningococcal disease in Northland."

This showed a three-week delay from when the outbreak threshold was reached and action was taken by the government, Dr Reti said.

"It's taken 25 days from when the outbreak trigger point was first reached on October 14th, through to November the 8th when they actually declared it," he said.

"That is way too long. That is not fast, that is not swift, that is delayed and slow and I need the minister to account for every single one of those 25 days."

The group should have been convened earlier to confirm the outbreak, he said.

"Those three weeks would have been the difference between rolling out the immunisation campaign at schools and vaccinating children while they were still accessible. Instead the vaccination programme was stalled and children have missed their vaccinations as a result."

However, the summary of recommendations from the Technical Advisory Group meeting on 8 November were published three weeks ago, not last Friday, a spokesperson for the duty government minister said.

"The government sympathises with those families who have just spent Christmas without loved ones, lost to Meningitis W this year. However we are confident that Northland DHB, the Ministry of Health, Pharmac and others acted swiftly to reduce chances of others suffering this tragedy," the spokesperson said.

"We reject National's assertion that there was a slow response to Northland's Meningococcal W cases this year."

It was disappointing "that Dr Reti is again making these misleading claims" after they were refuted by Northland DHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain in a select committee meeting on December 5, the spokesperson said.

Mr Chamberlain said at the select committee meeting that it could take some time to ensure the typing of the Meningococcal strain was accurate, which could have caused the delay in setting up a technical advisory group.

Dr Reti said he was also concerned that the vaccination programme was closed over the Christmas period.

"Instead of having a two-week break over Christmas, we could've been another another two weeks into the vaccination campaign," he said.

However, the Northland Medical Officer of Health Jose Ortega said that while the main clinics were shut down over Christmas, there were seven pharmacies across Northland that were offering the vaccination to teenagers over the holiday period.

Some of the pharmacies would also be offering vaccinations for children aged 9 months to 5 years old at certain times.

Mr Jose said the main vaccination clinics would reopen in the second week of January.

He said he was pleased with the current progress with nearly 11,000 people vaccinated - half the number of people the programme is targeting.

"I've been practicing public health for almost 35 years around the world and believe me when I'm saying that this time around it's the most dedicated and most efficient programme that I've seen so far.

"In 16 days being able to vaccinate 11,000 - and having being prepared only for a week after the ministry gave the go-ahead, is something I'm very proud of my team to have done."

Information about pharmacies and vaccinator availability times can be found here.

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