$10m is being invested in a rheumatic fever vaccine – but will the most vulnerable people line up to be vaccinated?

Latest from the Beehive

Our good health – and how to make it even better – has preoccupied ministers over the past 24 hours.

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall has announced a $10 million Government investment in the development of a vaccine to help prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

And the Minister for COVID-19 Response, Chris Hipkins, has announced a shipment of 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in New Zealand from Australia.

On the opposite side of the political divide, National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has criticised the stopping of weekly audits of personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory.

And National leader Judith Collins – on  policing measures being introduced to control the spread of Covid-19 – accused the government of continuing to duck simple questions about how its stop-and-check travel restrictions are supposed to work in practice.

Ayesha Verrall , announcing the investment in the development of a vaccine to help prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, said rheumatic fever can have a devastating impact, especially for Māori and Pacific children and young people.

The University of Auckland will lead research next year into the vaccine development, which will complement existing work under way in Australia.

“Because New Zealand and Australia are among the few developed countries to still have rheumatic fever, it makes sense for us to collaborate to develop a vaccine. This $10 million investment will help ensure the vaccine is appropriate for the strains of Strep A circulating in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Ayesha Verrall said.

Funding will also support activities such as enhanced surveillance of Group A streptococcus, more infrastructure for laboratory testing, and preparations to ensure New Zealand is ready to conduct clinical trials.

Just how big is the problem Verrall is addressing?

Her statements says that in 2020/21, 107 people were hospitalised for the first time with rheumatic fever in New Zealand.

We can stack this alongside data showing there are about 40,000 hospital admissions of children in New Zealand every year, with preventable illnesses that have links to poverty and unhealthy housing. The number of such admissions has increased since 2000.

This raises questions about the best way to invest $10 million – in health research that might come up with a remedy or  in more immediate initiatives?

But Verrall has focused today on the prospect of one disease being conquered.

She notes that other Government action to reduce rheumatic fever includes the expansion of the Healthy Homes Initiative to prevent childhood hospitalisations – by increasing the number of children living in warm, dry homes.

Her information shows:

  • Rheumatic fever starts from a strep throat infection, and causes the heart, joints, brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.
  • People who’ve caught rheumatic fever need to have monthly antibiotic injections for at least 10 years, to prevent it returning – and developing into rheumatic heart disease.
  • Māori and Pacific youbng people between the ages of four and 19 years old have the highest rates of rheumatic fever. Among Pacific peoples, rheumatic fever occurs mainly in Samoan and Tongan children and young people.

The Science Media Centre has published this news today and sought expert comment.

It says:

Preventing rheumatic fever may become within reach, as $10mill is secured to support design of a vaccine.

But whoa.  The problem group – Maori and Pacific people – is where  the government’s efforts to lift the vaccination rate to tackle Covid-19.  They are not being vaccinated for a raft of reasons, among them a distrust of government and a wariness about medicines the government  urges them to take.

Why should they treat other vaccines differently?

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has published a report today on rheumatic fever. This Evidence Summary found preventing strep throat infection through vaccination could make a significant difference to the rates of infection and subsequent complications of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

You can read it here: https://www.pmcsa.ac.nz/topics/antimicrobial-resistance-and-infectious-disease/rheumatic-fever

Latest from the Beehive

Funding for vaccine development to help prevent rheumatic fever

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall has announced today the Government is supporting the development of a vaccine to help prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

AstraZeneca arrives in New Zealand; second COVID-19 vaccine available this month

New Zealanders will soon be able to access a second type of COVID-19 vaccine, Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins said.

Govt aims to keep “three strike” criminals out of the cooler but has increasingly warmed to making race a factor in research funding

Latest from the Beehive

The Government is running hot and cold on crime – in the eyes of its political opponents, at least.  One consequence will be keeping more offenders from being banged up in the coooler for too long.

Less ambivalently, it is turning up the heat in its efforts to tackle the country’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions change while non-Maori and non-Pacifika applicants are feeling the chill when funding is distributed by the Health Research Council. 

On the law and order front, Police Minister Poto Williams is crowing about a Police operation which resulted in the seizure of more than 50 kilograms of cocaine, and $300,000 in cash, cocaine and cryptocurrency wallets.

Is the cocaine in the weight reference the same as the cocaine in the dollar-value reference? It is unclear.

Nine people were arrested. Continue reading “Govt aims to keep “three strike” criminals out of the cooler but has increasingly warmed to making race a factor in research funding”

The way out of Alert Level Four Covid confinement (it seems) is to get arrested and be freed on remand

The Beehive website has been focused on Covid-related news in recent days – each of the last four press statements from ministers is related to Covid-19 issues and, for good measure, we can include a statement which arrived in our email in-tray yesterday from Peeni Henare which has not yet been given “official” Beehive website status.

But none of those statements deals with the question of why a remand prisoner who should have been kept in Alert Level Four lockdown along with all other Aucklanders – preferably in a prison in his case – was allowed to cross the border to the Waikato.

And guess what?

The Minister of Health revealed at the weekend that three household members of the prisoner have tested positive for the virus. Continue reading “The way out of Alert Level Four Covid confinement (it seems) is to get arrested and be freed on remand”