Could meningococcal disease be eliminated in Aotearoa?
23 August, 2023
Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by David Liwei Shi
University of Otago Epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig argues that New Zealand should not continue to tolerate the high and inequitable impacts of meningococcal disease.
A group of infectious disease experts have published a briefing, stating that eliminating meningococcal disease could be a feasible goal for Aotearoa.
Meningococcal is a potentially deadly, but preventable bacterial infection. Although anyone can be affected, it is most prevalent in children under five, teenagers, and young adults. Places like university halls and other crowded living spaces are high-risk areas for infection.
University of Otago Epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig told 95bFM’s The Wire that utilising Covid-19 pandemic measures and expertise could help in the elimination of the disease.
“One great example is genomic epidemiology, which actually is to understand the strains and know how it's spreading through a community. Then you are halfway through figuring out how to stop it.”
“Both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, Māori and Pacific organisations have run highly effective public health programmes, including vaccination campaigns.”
As of 1 March 2023, the vaccine for treating meningococcal B, Bexsero, has been added to the National Immunisation Schedule, and is free for children under five and for 13 to 25-year-olds living in close-living conditions.
But Kvalsvig advocates for wider access to meningococcal vaccines, especially for lower-income families, and Māori and Pasifika communities, who are more likely to live in crowded households.
“We do have some universal provisions of vaccines. But, for people who aren't eligible for funding and still want the vaccines, it can be very expensive.”
“The risks are much higher for Māori and Pacific people, sometimes three or five times higher. It's a really unequal situation and we need to do something about it.”
Kvalsvig added that there are effective vaccines available for all the major meningococcal strains, and that New Zealand should not continue to tolerate the high and inequitable impacts of meningococcal disease.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air