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THE MeNZB™ VACCINE - a parents perspective.

Over the past year since Charlotte became ill, I have studied much about the disease itself and the new vaccine available to combat it.

I was invited to appear as opening speaker at the IMAC (Immunisation Advisory Centre) Conference in September 2004. Charlotte was still residing at Wilson House at the time so her story was still very fresh in my mind.

In 2005 at the request of the Ministry of Health, I spoke at public information meetings organised by the various DHB's (District Health Boards) as the vaccine was rolled out around the country to again tell Charlotte's story giving people a first hand account of the damage caused and what a parent goes through in such a situation.

Through the IMAC conference and the public meetings, I have learnt alot about the safety and efficacy of this vaccine.

In a nutshell, the following are the main points which as a parent are of greatest importance to me and form the answers to some of the most common misperceptions and myths surrounding its use:

(a) It is not a live vaccine so there is no possibility of developing the disease from its use.

(b) Each 0.5ml dose contains saline (salt water), histadine (a naturally occurring amino acid), the outer membrane vesicle (OMV) of the Neisseria Meningitides Group B strain NZ98/245 (but none of the bacteria itself) and 1.65mg of aluminum hydroxide (less aluminum than your daily intake through food and less than that naturally occurring in breast milk).

(c) It does not contain any blood, bovine or egg products. Nor does it contain any antibiotics or preservatives.

(d) It works in 75% of people - therefore it is not perfect but it is the best technology available to date and this figure is much higher than 0% as it would be without the vaccine. Therefore it works in "most cases" but the need to be vigilant for symptoms is still essential. No vaccine is 100% effective.

(e) It does not necessarily protect against other strains of meningococcal so vigilance is important. A meningococcal C vaccine is already available but as the B strain is at epidemic levels as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and accounts for about 80% of all cases in New Zealand, this is the one being administered free to everyone under 20 years of age.

(f) At time of writing approximately 1,000,000 doses have been administered nationwide with only one major adverse reaction (anaphylactic shock) in a child who had previously had major adverse reactions to vaccines.

(g) Most will have minor adverse reactions e.g. a sore arm, a slight fever, feeling off-colour for a few days. This is normal. Keep panadol and an ice-pack handy.

(h) A child that may be considered to be 'at risk' can be referred by their GP to an Adverse Reactions Clinic at their nearest hospital where an assessment will be made on the need to admit them to receive their vaccination. In Auckland over a two year period, 106 children were referred to Starship Children's Hospital's Adverse Reactions Clinic for all types of vaccinations, 4 were admitted, the other 102 referred back to their GP for vaccination in the community environment rather than the frightening surrounds of a hospital. None of the 106 children experienced a major adverse reaction but the safety net is there to be used if the child is considered 'at risk'.

(i) Anaphylactic shock can be caused by a peanut butter sandwich if you are allergic to peanuts. In fact, it's much more common than a bad reaction to a vaccine. It can be immediately treated with oxygen and adrenalin which is on standby with the registered vaccinators and public health nurses administering the MeNZB™ vaccine around the country's schools. It's extremely unlikely but easily treatable with no long term consequences. It is only when oxygen and adrenalin is not available that long term damage could result e.g. brain damage.

(j) Vaccination technology is about 100 years old now. The MeNZB™ OMV vaccine recipe is not much different from others such as the flu vaccine. As the flu strain changes each year, a similar process of identifying the bug and adding the OMV to the existing recipe occurs. Few are worried about this and in fact are lining up for their flu shot. Many were upset in 2005 when it was announced this years flu vax was delayed.

Perhaps the controversy surrounding MeNZB™ is more to do with lack of knowledge of this killer disease and the amount of media time given to the anti-immunisation stalwarts who are yet to offer any concrete evidence against its use but feel comfortable expounding emotive, controversial pseudo-science in the guise of fact. I have heard most claims and am not convinced any of them are reason not to vaccinate.

(k) Having a cold or other illness is not a contraindication or reason to put off vaccination. If the child is severely unwell, your GP can make an assessment however there are few reasons to delay vaccination.

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