‘They’re doing something’
A broken-hearted mum who lost her daughter to meningococcal disease says the Government’s immunisation plan against an outbreak is bittersweet.
An emergency vaccine programme to fight a new strain of the disease in Northland starts next week.
Six people have died from the strain Men win the past year, three of them in Northland.
Alexis Albert died in July from the disease six days after she celebrated her seventh birthday.
Her mother, Rowshae Albert, said the Government’s announcement was welcome news but gut-wrenching following Alexis’ death.
“I was actually quite hurt hearing that [the Government] are actually taking this seriously,” she said.
“It has been going in the back of my mind. Why didn’t the Government or the health officials announce this actually during the winter season where it started peaking?
“I can’t turn back time. I can only look at the positives and they’re actually doing something about it and now other families can do something about it.”
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 advice from clinical experts is that Menw has reached outbreak levels in Northland and we should urgently launch an immunisation programme to prevent further spread of the disease.”
The vaccination will target people aged nine months to four years (inclusive), and those aged between 13 and 19 years ). 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 fives were at the highest risk.
Northland was advised on November 6 about the possibility of an outbreak, and a technical advisory group reported two days later that there was an outbreak.
Bloomfield defended the time it took to respond, saying it took time to secure 20,000 doses — because both Australia and the United States were already dealing with outbreaks — and to put the programme in place
Despite the Government’s announcement, questions have been raised about why a response has taken so long.
A Northland District Health Board microbiologist first warned the Northland DHB of the dangerous strain in May this year and the Ministry of Health received advice on November 8 there was an outbreak in the region.
However, Albert said she was pleased something was being done.
“I’m actually quite overwhelmed that families out there get to have that protection for their family,” she said.
“The children up here are vulnerable and the disease is very real. I wholeheartedly feel parents need to consider the precautions and do what they feel is best for their child.”
‘I can’t turn back time. I can only look at the positives and they’re actually doing something about it and now other families can do something about ’ it. ROWSHAE ALBERT
Grieving mother Rowshae Albert says she’s glad the Government is taking the meningococcal outbreak in Northland seriously.