Eliminating deadly invasive meningococcal disease is potentially an achievable goal for Aotearoa NZ according to infectious disease experts.
In the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre, University of Otago epidemiologist and Associate Professor Amanda Kvalsvig and colleagues look at how NZ could be permanently free of this disease and its significant risk of death and disability.
Dr Kvalsvig says we have public health infrastructure from the Covid-19 pandemic that could help in elimination of meningococcal disease, for example, intensive contact tracing and genomic epidemiology. “If we combine that infrastructure with a strategic increase in funding and availability of meningococcal vaccines, we have the building blocks for a highly effective programme to end this devastating but preventable disease in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Dr Kvalsvig says with effective vaccines available for all of the major disease-associated strains and our improved understanding about how to control outbreaks, NZ should not continue to tolerate the high and inequitable impacts of meningococcal disease.
“Recent changes to make the vaccines more widely available are a very welcome move in the right direction, because meningococcal vaccines are extremely costly for families to self-fund. What this means is that often, the families who need these vaccines the most can’t afford them.”
“Remarkably we saw meningococcal cases fall by about 60% during the pandemic” says Professor Michael Baker, one of the study authors.
“Cases are rising again now that pandemic protections have been removed. That tells us that simple public health measures can help to eliminate this preventable disease.”
Dr Kvalsvig says that NZ now needs to evaluate the strategic options in a systematic way. Key evidence would include mathematical modelling to establish the effectiveness, costs, and benefits of different vaccine options, identifying opportunities for tighter control of outbreaks, and mapping the genomic epidemiology to understand how different variants arrive in the country and spread within communities.
“This is an important issue for tangata whenua and we want to be a part of exploring solutions for our communities”, said Carmen Timu-Parata (Ngati Kahungunu), a University of Otago researcher and a co-author of the Briefing.
Dr Kvalsvig agreed. “There is a wealth of experience and expertise in this country to ensure that public health really works where it matters most, in the community. Both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, Māori and Pacific organisations have run highly effective public health programmes including vaccination campaigns. Prevention of invasive meningococcal disease is an obvious way to build on these strong foundations. The next step is to establish a formal partnership between Government, communities, and health experts to design and implement an effective country-level meningococcal disease programme.”