Vaccine plan

THE Health Ministry is conducting urgent consultations with its development partners to determine the vaccination to be brought into the country to fight the meningococcal disease outbreak.

Responding to questions from this newspaper on the strategies the ministry had in place to control the outbreak, it said it was establishing an appropriate vaccination strategy through advice and support of its development partners.

According to the ministry, the vaccine was not available at State-run health facilities, but some pharmacies were selling it.

“MoHMS is awaiting confirmation from the Fiji Pharmaceutical Society of the current stock of vaccines in private pharmacies for meningococcal C.

“We need to ensure that the vaccines available are for this type of disease and that private pharmacies’ processes for storage and handling of these vaccines are compliant with MoHMS and international standards. If a vaccine is not stored or handled correctly (storing at a specific temperature) it will be of no use,” the ministry stated.

The ministry stated the aim of the vaccine was to make the immune system recognise the bacteria as an invader as soon as it entered the body.

“When this happens, your immune system will build the required components ready to fight off the bacteria.

“So in the future, if the bacteria does enter your bloodstream, your immune system will fight it off and save you from developing the disease.”

Ministry’s national adviser communicable disease Dr Aalisha Sahukhan said since the outbreak in 2017 at a prominent school and the detection of the virus in 2016, the ministry had done a lot.

Dr Sahukhan said after the outbreak at the school in 2017, there were no other reported cases since then.

“So there was an outbreak in 2017 at St John’s College and there was a lot that the ministry did for that.

“There were a lot of investigations that went on there and after a vaccination program, there have been no cases since then.

“At that time it was reported in the media, the Ministry of Health made a statement that time so that was in June last year, so the ministry took action then and it was reported to the public.”

She said the meningococcal disease had always been in Fiji.

“Usually when we have outbreaks, they are in boarding schools and that is why the case number in a year would go up.

She said more cases were coming from the Central Division.

“To date, there have been four deaths this year for patients confirmed to have meningococcal disease — three have been in the Central Division, and one in the West. Three deaths were in children of ages five years old, while the fourth patient was a teenager.”