Safety assurance needed
The Government’s belated response to Northland’s meningococcal outbreak is needed but does not alter the fact the handling so far has been abysmal.
Health Minister David Clark needs to explain why it took six months for the Northland community to be made aware of the meningococcal outbreak which has resulted in three deaths in that time. Northland DHB staff were reportedly warned in May to have their children immunised against the strain, however.
It is outrageous that in this case public warnings weren’t issued for this serious outbreak sooner, ensuring people knew what symptoms to look out for. The Northland DHB’s claim that it ‘didn’t want to alarm people’ is completely inappropriate.
Its job is to keep people healthy and informed.
The Government needs to reassure New Zealanders that the public will be made aware of any future outbreaks sooner and that they will be handled more appropriately. It must also reassure New Zealanders that there are sufficient treatments available for outbreaks like this, given the reported nationwide shortages of vital medicines.
The fact is this outbreak has undermined that confidence.
While the vaccination campaign will help, lives have been put at risk. Mr Clark needs to assure the public that our health system is prepared and will act appropriately to minimise the effect of this or any future outbreaks. The handling of the current situation would suggest otherwise.
■ An emergency vaccine programme to fight a new strain of the disease in Northland starts next week.
Six people have died from the strain MenW in the past year, three of them in Northland.
The vaccination programme starts on December 5 at selected high schools and community centres across Northland.
Health Minister David Clark said meningococcal disease was a terrible illness which had affected New Zealand in the past.
“In the last few weeks, Pharmac and the Ministry of Health have sourced 20,000 doses of the vaccine which covers the meningococcal W-strain, as well as strains A, C and Y,” he said.
The vaccination will target people aged 9 months to 4 years (inclusive), and those aged between 13 and 19 years (inclusive).
Recipients will not have to pay for the vaccine, but to be eligible they will have to be a Northland resident.
The cost is commercially sensitive, but it costs $700,000 to roll out the vaccination programme.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said people as young as 11 months and as old as 61 years had died from MenW, but teenagers were the highest carriers of the disease, and under 5s were at the highest risk.
■ Michael Woodhouse is the National Party’s Health spokesman.
"It is outrageous that in this case public warnings weren’t issued for this serious meningococcal outbreak sooner, ensuring people knew what symptoms to look out for."