Experts call for all school leavers to be vaccinated against meningococcal

Leah Panapa 17/09/2021

LISTEN: While not that common, meningococcal can be a life-threatening illness. 

It is a bacterial infection causing two serious illnesses: meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

We have one of the highest rates of contracting the illness in the developed world, and health experts here are joining their counterparts across the globe, calling for teenagers to be vaccinated against meningitis before they leave school.

According to the latest statistics, New Zealand's rate of meningococcal disease is 24 times higher than in the US.

In 2019, there were 139 cases of meningococcal disease reported in New Zealand and 10 people died.

Andrea Brady, Meningitis Foundation New Zealand director, says we need to take urgent steps to eliminate meningitis by reducing the number of cases of meningococcal disease in the country.

“New Zealand is underperforming compared to many other developed countries when it comes to protecting adolescents against this disease. 

"As an organisation, we believe every high school student should be protected against all common forms of meningococcal disease before leaving school," she says.

The Meningitis Foundation New Zealand would like the government to widen access to vaccines for all common forms of meningococcal disease.

"That’s one of the goals we are setting ourselves to achieve by 2025,” Brady says.

But it's not just health experts calling for wider access to vaccinations.

Brady's call is echoed by Paul Chapman, who lost his daughter Miwa to meningitis when she was flatting at the University of Canterbury in 2020.

His story is heartbreaking to hear.

The 19-year-old attended an o-week event in Feburary last year. The next day she was sick.

"It just felt to her like the flu," her dad Paul told Magic Talk.

She was so weak she couldn’t walk by the evening, however, decided to wait until the next morning to see a doctor.

By 7am the next day, her flatmates found she was not breathing and called an ambulance. A few hours later, Miwa had sadly passed away.

Paul Chapman now wants to make sure as many people as possible take up the vaccine to prevent other tragic deaths like his daughter's.

Listen to the full interviews with Andrea Brady & Paul Chapman above.

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