Parents who lost daughter to meningococcal want greater vaccine access

In 2014, Claire and Gerard Rushton lost their 16-year-old daughter Courtenay to meningococcal disease in a matter of days. 

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Claire and Gerard Rushton lost their 16-year-old daughter Courtenay to the disease in 2014. Source: Breakfast

They are now calling on the Government to expand access to meningococcal vaccines and provide a programme to vaccinate all those in Year 11 against preventable forms of the disease for free.

There are five different types of the disease — A, C, W, Y and B. Most cases in New Zealand are caused by group B.

Currently, vaccines against meningococcal are only recommended by the Ministry of Health to several high-risk groups and many need to be paid for privately through a GP.

Courtenay had fallen ill with flu-like symptoms during a family holiday in Twizel. 

She died on January 3, 2014, four days after being taken to hospital in an ambulance. 

The teen had visited a GP three times in the space of two days before this. 

Gerard told Breakfast on Wednesday it was "hell" losing his daughter in a matter of days. 

Claire said it was "overwhelming" losing her daughter to a preventable disease. 

Courtenay's parents were unaware there were vaccines available for other strains of the disease and said it was a "no brainer" they would have got her vaccinated if they had known. 

Both felt there was a lack of action from the Government in improving awareness of the disease and the vaccines available to prevent it. 

"It's just not good enough," Claire said of continuing deaths from the disease.

According to the Meningitis Foundation, 139 cases of meningococcal were reported in New Zealand in 2019. Ten people died.

Vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said it was just a matter of getting the vaccines funded. 

People needed two different vaccines to be protected, although protection was not life-long and they would "need a boost".

She said the disease moves fast and said there were calls for Year 11s to be vaccinated as adolescents, after infants, were most at risk. 

Gerard and Claire Rushton. Source: Breakfast