Immunisation plan under fire
12 July 2004
By JAMES HEFFIELD
Source: New Zeland - Stuff National News
The decision to launch a mass meningococcal disease immunisation programme has been met with scepticism by the Immunisation Awareness Society of New Zealand, which has called for more information to be made available to the public.
Society spokesperson Sue Claridge said the lack of material in the public domain about the vaccine was a serious worry.
"No vaccination is 100 per cent safe," she said.
"Parents, by law, should be told about what's in vaccines, because sometimes they contain things which kids are allergic to."
Her organisation had been forced to use the Official Information Act to obtain information about the vaccine's ingredients, she said.
"All the Ministry of Health would tell us was that it was safe."
Ms Claridge said the number of people affected by meningicoccal disease was minuscule, and though it could be extremely serious there were ways for parents to protect their children other than getting a vaccination.
Iron deficiency significantly increased the chances of contracting the disease, she said. Parents could greatly reduce the risk by ensuring that their children ate healthily.
Unlike many mothers who have welcomed the vaccine, Hutt Valley mother of three Catharina Fisher said she would not be rushing out to get her children immunised.
"I am suspicious of the overall reasoning of the Government, and whether immunisation is the best way to protect my children against meningitis."
She said research in the past had convinced her that her children were not in the at-risk category, partly because they ate well and had healthy iron levels.
Health Ministry senior adviser on public health medicine Alison Roberts said the vaccine was well tested and effective.
"The vaccines on the national childhood programme go through extensive testing so they are safe and well recognised."
Auckland University professor Diana Lennon, who led the trials for the vaccine, said it was safe.
Similar vaccines had been used in Norway, Cuba and South America, proving successful.
"It's very important that everybody thinks about getting this vaccine for their child.
"The risk is unacceptable.
"We have 500 times the risk of Australians, probably due to social conditions and housing."
Though minor side effects such as soreness in limbs and flu-like symptoms were common, serious problems were rare.
"We worked very hard to make the tests as thorough as possible, testing all age groups and all ethnic groups," Ms Lennon said.
Recently, two babies infected with meningicoccal disease have needed to have limbs amputated.