12 Sep 2013

Pharmac may fund rotovirus, chicken pox vaccines

10:05 am on 12 September 2013

The drug-buying agency Pharmac is being urged to fund two new vaccines for children.

Doctors at an immunisation conference in Auckland say they've waited years for the vaccines, which target childhood diarrhoea and chicken pox.

Health workers at the conference were told on Wednesday that Pharmac is poised to alter the current list of funded vaccines.

The immunisation schedule lists all the vaccines that the Government funds for children and adults, but there's been no change to it for six years.

The top priority for those attending the conference are a vaccine against rotovirus, or serious diarrhoea, and a chicken pox vaccine known as varicella.

Nikki Turner is the head of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at Auckland University which is hosting the conference and says they're safe, effective vaccines.

Parents should not have to dig into their own pockets, she says.

Pharmac told conference delegates that it's likely to consult vaccine suppliers this month over possible changes to the schedule.

Information on its website says 95 percent of patients are expected to have been infected by rotovirus gastroenteritis at last once by age five.

An immunisation subcommittee also recommended a rotovirus vaccine be funded as a high priority.

The chief advisor on child and youth health at the Health Ministry, Pat Tuohy, says it's a decision for Pharmac.

He says the last time a change was made to the publicly funded vaccines list was 6 years ago when a vaccine to combat pneumococcal disease and the Gardasil vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in girls were added.

The conference heard that overall childhood immunisation rates have been lifted dramatically from less than 70% of two year olds fully immunised to more than 93% now.

And 90% of all babies are also now vaccinated by 8 months.

A Lower Hutt family doctor and immunisation specialist, Steward Reid, says the need to lift vaccination rates has been given as a reason in the past to delay adding new vaccines.

The conference also heard that Australia, which has both vaccines, this year also began vaccinating boys as well as girls with the HPV vaccine Gardasil.

Dr Reid says that should happen in New Zealand too.

But Dr Tuohy says the Health Ministry's priority regarding the human papillomavirus, or HPV, is to lift coverage. Currently only half of those girls eligible have had the vaccine.