Experts in science and medicine will focus on New Zealand's Meningococcal B Immunisation Programme today and tomorrow at an Immunisation Conference in Rotorua.
The immunisation programme aims to stop New Zealand's devastating epidemic of the fast-moving and potentially deadly meningococcal B disease.
Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy director Jane O'Hallahan said the conference was an opportunity to celebrate the early success of the immunisation programme, report on results and plan the way forward.
"We have just completed week eight of the immunisation programme and some 80,000 children and young people have received their first dose. We're delighted with this response. It's a tremendous effort and a credit to all the doctors, nurses and others involved in the Counties Manukau region.
"The Really Active Immunisation Conference is also an opportunity for the scientific and medical community to consider in-depth the results of the vaccine's clinical trials, that were conducted prior to the licensure of the vaccine, and the planning for the rest of the programme.
"No-one is under-estimating the enormity of the task ahead as we aim to immunise 1.1 million children and young people in New Zealand against this devastating disease.
"It is fitting that Perry Bisman, the father of "Baby Charlotte" Lucy Cleverley-Bisman, opens the conference. Charlotte and all the others like her, who have suffered from this disease, are the reason we are undertaking this immunisation programme. This vaccine is our best way to prevent that type of pain and suffering.
"We are delighted that international experts in meningococcal disease and immunisation are able to attend the conference.
"Planning for this immunisation programme has involved a huge national and international team effort. We have drawn on expertise from around the globe and it is pleasing to have some of these people together in New Zealand to evaluate how we are going and examine the very real challenges ahead as we roll out the vaccine throughout the country.
"We also want to examine the coverage rates for Mäori and Pacific children in the first few weeks. Mäori coverage is not as high as the excellent coverage achieved for Pacific. We will be looking at the specific plans to get the vaccine to Mäori, Pacific and other communities who are not engaged with mainstream health providers.
"Immunisation started in July in the Counties Manukau region, the area with the greatest risk of the disease. Immunisation is free and available to those aged up to and including 19 years. Three doses of the vaccine are needed with each one about six weeks apart.
"With parental consent, school students are immunised in schools while pre-schoolers and those who have left school receive the vaccine at their doctor.
"At present, the vaccine is licensed for use in babies aged from six months but it is expected that a decision will be made on an application to reduce the minimum age to six weeks," Dr O'Hallahan said.
"The programme is being delivered in a staggered roll out throughout the country, as far as possible according to the risk of meningococcal disease in each district health board. The next areas to receive the vaccine will be the rest of Auckland and Northland. Next year the vaccine will be available in other district health boards from Auckland south to Wellington and then from Southland up to Nelson Marlborough," Dr O'Hallahan said.