Army medics may help out

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Lindy Laird

The short-no­tice roll-out of meningo­coc­cal vac­cine in North­land will re­quire a small army of staff — and it could even take the New Zealand Army.

North­land Dis­trict Health Board chief ex­ec­u­tive Nick Cham­ber­lain said the board has ap­proached New Zealand De­fence Force about medic teams help­ing with the “lo­gis­ti­cal feat” of giv­ing the jabs at dozens of clin­ics.

It would not be the first time the two have worked to­gether. De­fence Force den­tal per­son­nel worked with NDHB in 2014 on Ex­er­cise Wis­dom Tooth, run­ning den­tal clin­ics for high-need Far North res­i­dents.

With North­land cases of the menW strain reach­ing a Min­istry of Health thresh­old sig­ni­fy­ing an out­break, the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a free North­land vac­cine pro­gramme. The re­gion has had the high­est num­ber of cases of the menW strain per pop­u­la­tion in New Zealand, with seven of the coun­try’s 29 cases and three of the six deaths na­tion­wide.

“The on­ly­ef­fec­tive way to man­age this out­break is with a vac­cine pro­gramme,” Cham­ber­lain said.

Staffing clin­ics at dozens of North­land lo­ca­tions will also mean de­ploy­ing school nurses and other health staff for the three-week, seven days a week pro­gramme to vac­ci­nate 20,000 young chil­dren and teenagers.

With only 20,000 vac­cine doses avail­able, two age groups are tar­geted — the high risk nine months to un­der 5 year olds and 13 to 19-year-olds, ex­chang­ing higher bac­te­ria rates than other age groups.

Im­mu­nis­ing the groups would pro­tect where it was most needed and have the great­est im­me­di­ate im­pact on less­en­ing the dis­ease’s spread, NDHB pae­di­a­tri­cian Ailsa Tuck said.

NDHB is try­ing to pro­cure an­other round of doses so the mid­dle age group can be vac­ci­nated early next year.

“We know there’s go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cant anxiety among par­ents of that group,” Tuck said.

Be ex­tra vig­i­lant about chil­dren’s sick­ness and seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion early, she said. MenW does not present with typ­i­cal meningo­coc­cal symp­toms but the pa­tient be­comes rapidly ex­tremely ill.

Four of the North­land cases oc­curred in Septem­ber and no link has been found be­tween any of the seven lo­cal cases. Up to 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion can carry meningo­coc­cal bac­terium in their throats or nasal pas­sages with­out be­com­ing ill, but can spread it.

Cham­ber­lain de­fended the DHB against claims it did not act quickly enough. He said the ini­tial two adult cases in May did not sig­nify an out­break in the com­mu­nity.

“The as­ser­tion we should have done some­thing sooner is un­fair.”

The board’s mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist David Ham­mer had warned staff at the time of those two cases, and told me­dia yes­ter­day his “in­tu­ition” was that cases would rise.

How­ever, the dis­ease’s pres­ence in the com­mu­nity did not be­come a pub­lic safety is­sue un­til reach­ing the MoH cri­te­ria of 10 cases per 100,000 peo­ple.

“We have to wait for out­break sta­tus. But, ab­so­lutely, we want to im­mu­nise and, ab­so­lutely, we wish we could have started ear­lier,” Cham­ber­lain said. He said he was a doc­tor in “the dark days” of a se­ri­ous na­tion­wide meningo­coc­cal out­break in the 1990s which no-one would want to see again.

The DHB will pay for vac­cines and ex­tra staff re­quire­ments, with the cam­paign likely to cost be­tween $1-2 mil­lion. The MoH will re­im­burse most of the costs. Par­ents whose chil­dren are be­tween five and 13, or oth­ers in the com­mu­nity who want im­mu­ni­sa­tion can pay pri­vately for a vac­cine from their GP.

The free vac­cine clin­ics will be held in schools and com­mu­nity cen­tres, with times and places ad­ver­tised in the me­dia and on­line fo­rums from tonight.


Mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist for NDHB David Ham­mer, left, CEO Nick Cham­ber­lain and pae­di­a­tri­cian Ailsa Tuck.

Richard Hape is part of the Adult and Com­mu­nity Ed­u­ca­tion team at Far North REAP.

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