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The Health Minister has today dismissed the deaths from the current meningococcal outbreak and categorised the outbreak as a ‘slight rise’ in the disease, National’s associate Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“The Minister tried to dismiss the deaths from the current outbreak by saying ‘people have died of meningococcal disease… that happens.’ This is a callous and absolutely appalling description of a fatal disease which has caused devastation in a number of communities.

“The meningococcal outbreak that the Minister has described as a ‘slight rise’ in cases was identified in the Ministry of Health’s own immunisation update as an outbreak as early as May this year.

“That’s six months before the official notice was released. This gave the Government significant time to request and begin a response and yet by the Minister’s own admission he wasn’t even aware of the response till last week.

“Outbreaks don’t happen overnight and it is very clear that there were warnings about this for months before anything was done by the Minister. In fact, two of the deaths in Northland occurred after May, when the Ministry was signalling the outbreak.

“David Clark himself said in Parliament yesterday that he has ‘been made aware over time of concern around meningococcal W’ and yet he chose not to act. Given the seriousness of the disease, he should have taken action months earlier.

“The Ministry of Health document also specifically mentions that the two meningococcal vaccines available in New Zealand that protect against the W strain are not publicly funded for most people – therefore highlighting, back in May, that supplies would difficult to source compared to a publically funded vaccine.

“All of this adds up to the fact that the Health Minister should have known and actioned a response to this much sooner. He must come clean on what he knew, and when and why he didn’t request a response to this sooner so the public can judge how badly he has botched the handling of this fatal outbreak.”

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