‘They’re do­ing some­thing’

Whangarei Report - - FRONT PAGE -

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

PHOTO / TA­NIA WHYTE

Griev­ing mother Rowshae Albert says she’s glad the Gov­ern­ment is tak­ing the meningo­coc­cal out­break in North­land se­ri­ously.

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