Pharmac to consider funding the Meningococcal B vaccine but concerns remain

Pharmac has confirmed it will consider funding the Meningococcal B vaccine, which is a crucial tool in the fight against meningitis.

It comes after an uptick in cases in recent years but advocates said the criteria is too narrow and doesn't go far enough.

Every day, Gerard and Claire Rushton experience a heartache no parent should ever have to endure.

They now carry their daughter Courtenay in a photograph after meningitis took her life when she was just 16 years old.

"We just draw strength from what our daughter went through and we just keep that strength going - to keep fighting," Claire told Newshub. 

It's a fight for equal access to vaccines they've been in for years.

"Every person that we get protected could be a life that we save," said Gerard, who's also the Meningitis Foundation chairperson.

Meningococcal disease can take a life within just 24 hours or leave someone with a severe disability.

There are vaccines available but they're expensive - $450 for a full course - but on Tuesday, there was good news from Pharmac.

"We're really pleased to announce the progress of an application for Meningococcal B vaccine," Pharmac chief medical officer David Hughes told Newshub. 

The proposal to fund the vaccine for the deadly B strain focuses on two groups; babies who are under the age of 1 and people between the ages of 13 and 25.

They'll need to be entering, or already in their first year, of a close-living situation - like a tertiary education hall of residence.

"It's a significant addition to the vaccine schedule," Hughes said. "We've tried to capture as many of the groups who are at risk in that initial period."

But Courtenay's parents said the criteria is missing a huge portion of the population.

"It's missing out those that are flatting, it's missing out those that are living at home, it's missing out all those people that go and do trades after they leave school," Gerard said.

Pharmac is also proposing a 'catch-up' programme with wider criteria, that'll be in place for a few years.

It estimates around 300,000 people will be eligible for it but Gerard believes it won't work.

"You can't catch a person who has passed away," he said. 

Courtenay's mother agrees. 

"New Zealand is so slow to react to this… we are continuing, as a foundation, to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff," she said. 

"We're getting parents and families reach out to us, wanting to know why their child has died and what they can do - so the awareness is still not getting out there." 

They want to see all Kiwis given the option to be fully protected by the time they're 16.

Pharmac said there will be the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal during the consultation period. 

"[The consultation] has, on many occasions, changed the way we've funded things," Hughes said. 

"If people have concerns or suggestions, really, bring them to us. We will listen."