Meningococcal outbreak: Kindness missing in Northland

It’s been six months since concerns were raised about a potential outbreak of meningococcal disease.  A newspaper reports:  Quote:

[…] Northland DHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain confirmed to the Herald that it raised concerns with the Ministry of Health on May 16 and asked if an active national vaccination campaign should be considered because it was seeing an increase of cases in Northland and across New Zealand.

“We also noted that with our high deprivation population in Northland, we were concerned about what potentially may be evolving here. To that end we questioned if our threshold in Northland for a local campaign would need to be assessed,” Chamberlain said.[…]  End of quote.

The reason high deprivation is a problem is that the disease is spread by spit or saliva in close contact.  Large families living in small spaces increase the risk of transmission.  Quote.

[…] The definition of a community outbreak of meningococcal disease is three or more confirmed cases of the same strain within a three-month period that are not linked and are within a specific age group or community group and the rate of disease is at least 10 cases per 100,000 people.[…]

[…] On Monday the Government announced an urgent immunisation programme to fight the outbreak in Northland, which has had the highest number of cases and deaths of the strain.

Three of the six nationwide MenW deaths this year, including a 7-year-old girl and a teenage boy, occurred in Northland. The number of MenW cases nationwide jumped from five in 2016 to 29 this year, including seven in Northland.

The vaccination programme will start on December 5 and target children aged 9 months to four years, and those aged 13 to 19 years.

National’s associate health spokesman Shane Reti has accused Health Minister David Clark’s description of the outbreak as a “slight rise” in the disease.  End of quote.

I’m sure the families that have lost loved ones don’t think of it so benignly.  Quote.

“This is a callous and absolutely appalling description of a fatal disease which has caused devastation in a number of communities,” Reti said.

He said the Ministry of Health’s own immunisation update described it as an outbreak as early as May.

“That’s six months before the official notice was released. This gave the Government significant time to request and begin a response and yet by the Minister’s own admission he wasn’t even aware of the response till last week,” Reti said in a statement.  End of quote.

So if it was described as an outbreak in May, why was no action taken until October/November?

What bothers me about this is that no warnings were given to the public about the disease. Even if it wasn’t certain that it was officially an outbreak and even if vaccines weren’t available, surely the most vulnerable groups could have been warned to be vigilant for any signs of the disease? Aside from vaccination, early detection and treatment give patients the best outcome.

I thought Ms Ardern’s government was all about kindness.  It’s certainly been missing in Northland.


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