25 Oct 2022

Pharmac aims to fund meningococcal B vaccine for babies and young people

8:50 pm on 25 October 2022
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Pharmac plans to broaden access to the meningococcal B vaccine. Photo: 123RF

Pharmac is proposing to widen access to the meningococcal B vaccine to include infants and young adults.

Currently, the vaccine is funded for people who are close contacts of a meningococcal case, or are at high risk.

Pharmac chief medical officer Dr David Hughes said meningococcal disease could progress very rapidly, but vaccination could provide protection for children and young adults.

"We are pleased to be progressing this proposal for the meningococcal B vaccine that could bring a new vaccine onto the childhood immunisation schedule and better protect our children from infectious diseases," Dr Hughes said.

Pharmac is seeking feedback on the proposal to fund the vaccine from 1 March 2023 for:

  • Children up to 12 months of age, and a catch-up programme for children from 13 to 59 months of age (inclusive) to 31 August 2025.
  • People aged 13 to 25 years who are entering into or in their first year of close-living situations, and a catch-up programme for people this age who are already living in close-living situations to 28 February 2024.

Meningococcal disease can lead to serious illnesses including meningitis (inflammation of your brain membranes) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

These illnesses can develop quickly over a few hours and can cause severe disability or even death.

"Over the past few years, the number of meningococcal B cases being notified has been increasing and we want to acknowledge the concern from the public and advocacy groups including the Meningitis Foundation," Dr Hughes said.

"Meningococcal disease can progress very rapidly, but vaccination can provide protection for our children and young adults.

"If this proposal is approved, we estimate that around 300,000 people would be eligible during the catch-up period, and around 60,000 new infants and young people each year following.

"We are aware that Māori and Pacific peoples have higher infection rates than the total population, so this proposal is a step towards improved protection for these communities."

If approved, Pharmac will be working closely with the health sector as they plan for the implementation of these changes to the National Immunisation Schedule.

The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand said the proposal to partially fund vaccination for the deadly meningococcal B strain, does not go far enough.

Meningitis Foundation chairperson Gerard Rushton said that, while he was glad Pharmac was proposing to partially fund vaccination for one of the deadliest strains of meningococcal disease, it was unlikely to have a material impact.

Pharmac's proposal, he said, also completely missed the two most significant at-risk groups, Māori and Pasifika within this age range.

"This is a huge oversight. Vaccination rates amongst these groups must be prioritised, given that 70 percent of cases so far this year have presented within these groups. The risk posed to these groups is completely missing from Pharmac's proposal," Gerard said.

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