Editorial Comment – Vaccination programme

Minister for Health and Medical Services Rosy Akbar addresses a press conference at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services headquarters in Toorak, Suva yesterday. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

The announcement by the Health Ministry that it has procured more than 124,000 vaccines for Fijians aged 19 years and below for prevention against Meningococcal disease will no doubt be welcomed.

Health Minister Rosy Akbar said of the more than 124,000 vaccines procured at this stage, 63,000 Men-C doses would arrive in the country today.

The other 61,830, she said, would arrive on May 7 and May 9.

While venues for the mass vaccination program have not been confirmed yet, Ms Akbar said the immunisation campaign was planned to start on May 14.

The procurement, she said, had been part of an intensive process, complicated by the fact that access to the stockpile was usually prioritised for outbreaks of meningococcal disease in the African meningitis belt, and for low-income countries (based on gross national income per capita – GNI) which Fiji was not.

Ms Akbar insists there was no delay in the procuring of the Men-C vaccines.

Supplies of Men-C vaccines, she said, were limited on the world market, and it would have been extremely difficult, and much costlier, to procure the large amount by any other means.

She reiterated that the conjugate monovalent Men-C vaccine was safe and effective.

The vaccine, she said, had been licensed for use in countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia since the late 1990s.

The initial rollout, she said, would be in the Central, and Ra subdivision in the west and would continue until all individuals within the target age group across Fiji had received their vaccination.

Ms Akbar yesterday confirmed 58 cases of Men-C were reported from January 1 to April 22. Of these, 24 were laboratory confirmed, and 34 were either suspected or probable cases based on clinical diagnosis by a doctor.

Of the 58 cases, 38 were from the Central Division, 17 from the West, two from the North, and one from the Eastern Division.

Males accounted for 66.7 per cent of the cases.

As of April 22, all confirmed cases were below 19 years old.

There were four confirmed deaths from the disease this year.

All these deaths were in the age group less than five years.

While there were no deaths from the disease reported in the past five weeks since the outbreak was declared, the onus is on us to be proactive.

It is important that we are aware of symptoms of meningococcal disease.

On top of that, it is comforting to know that the World Health Organization considers our planned vaccination program safe.

The challenge now for the powers that be is to roll out the plan, consider and understand possible issues that may pop up and take appropriate action to address them.

Then there is the issue of what happens to those above the age of 19?

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