National landmarks across Aotearoa New Zealand will lead the world in commemorating World Meningitis Day today (Thursday 5 October), joining a global movement to create a “chain of light” symbolising the aims of the World Health Organization’s Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030, and in remembrance of everyone who has lost their life, or had their life changed forever, because of meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis.
As the national landmarks light up in solidarity with the global World Meningitis Day movement, Gerard Rushton, chair of The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand has issued a call to action, urging New Zealand to do their part to eliminate meningitis.
“We are calling on all those who are eligible for the free meningococcal B and the ACWY vaccines to get their jabs as soon as possible,” he says.
Meningococcal disease can develop rapidly and kill within hours. Those who survive often have serious long-term effects, including amputation of limbs, hearing loss, seizures, brain injury, and permanent skin scarring.
Globally, meningitis kills 1 in 10 people who contract it, and it causes life-long disability in 1 in 5 people who survive it. In the last 5 years, 20 people in New Zealand have died from the vaccine-preventable disease.
There have been 44 cases of meningococcal disease in New Zealand so far this year, and one death.
“The disease affects all ages, but 13- to 25-year-olds are particularly vulnerable, while Māori and Pasifika communities are also at high risk of catching the disease and not receiving timely treatment. This year, 50% of cases are in Māori (39%) and Pacific peoples (14%), while 32% of cases were in those aged between 15 and 24,” says Gerard Rushton.
“Every second counts when it comes to treating meningitis. The symptoms often present as the flu or a hangover, or even COVID-19. They can come on rapidly, and become life-threatening within hours.”
As well as calling on kiwis to get vaccinated, Rushton says the Foundation also wishes to share information about the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
Gisborne’s clocktower will lead the world as the first landmark to light up the night sky, symbolising the city’s commitment to raising awareness about meningitis prevention and support.
Other landmarks across the country will also light up purple in support. These include the Dunedin Settlers Museum, Ashburton Clocktower, the Memorial Avenue Gateway Bridge in Christchurch, Hastings Clocktower, Palmerston North City Clocktower, New Plymouth Clocktower, and Auckland’s Aotea Centre.
“These luminous gestures serve as a beacon of hope for communities worldwide in the fight against this devastating disease,” says Gerard Rushton.
“As these often-treasured landmarks brighten our skies on Thursday, they will serve as a reminder that the clock is ticking to eliminate meningitis by 2030. Every second counts in the fight to eliminate meningitis, and we want New Zealand to lead the world.”
More information on the symptoms of meningitis is available here.
Who is eligible for free vaccination?
There are different types of meningococcal bacteria, including A, B, C, W, and Y. In New Zealand, most meningococcal disease is caused by group B bacteria. There are two vaccines available in New Zealand, one to protect against meningococcal ACW&Y, and another for meningococcal B.
Rangatahi aged 13 to 25 years who are entering into, or in their first year of certain close-living situations, can get a free meningococcal A, C, W, and Y (MenACWY) vaccine. Close-living situations include boarding schools, hostels, halls of residence, military barracks, and prisons.
On 1 March 2023, the meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine was added to the National Immunisation Schedule for babies at 3 months, 5 months, and 12 months old. A meningococcal B vaccine catch-up programme for rangatahi aged 13 to 25 years old already living in close-living situations is 28 February 2024. Group B accounts for 80% of cases to date in 2023.