Grieving parents urge others to get children vaccinated

ELLE HUNT AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 18/04/2013
Lisa and Mark Gallagher
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
BE SAFE: Lisa and Mark Gallagher, who lost their daughter Letitia, 18, to meningococcal C last year, were at Parliament for the release of an immunisation report.

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Mark Gallagher wants every parent to get their children vaccinated - "for everything".

His 18-year-old daughter Letitia, known as Tesh, died from meningococcal C in July last year.

"It's a very difficult story to tell," Mr Gallagher said.

"We want to say, look, this happened to us, don't let it happen to you. It's something that every family should be aware of."

Tesh was taken to Palmerston North Hospital after she woke up vomiting at 3am.

She started having seizures every two or three minutes.

"She wasn't coherent at all, but I could talk to her and that would calm her down."

She was put into an induced coma for a CT scan, the results of which came back "OK-ish", Mr Gallagher said.

He and wife Lisa were told to go home and come back in a few hours, when ICU reopened.

"We didn't even get as far as the car park before we were called back by her boyfriend, saying, 'there's been a development'.

"We got back, and they told us that there was nothing they could do."

Tesh had been vaccinated at school, but the Gallaghers did not know that the vaccine did not cover meningococcal C.

Three weeks later, Wellington schoolgirl Amanda Crook-Barker, 12, died of the same strain as Tesh.

The Gallaghers, of Levin, were in Wellington yesterday for the launch of the 2013 Immunisation Health Report, which aims to raise awareness of immunisation-preventable diseases.

They are urging other parents to be aware of what vaccines are available. "The more you can vaccinate your kids for, the better," Mr Gallagher said. "Vaccinate them for everything.

"They have to pay for it, but isn't it better to do that than go through what we're going through now?"

The report, launched by Health Minister Tony Ryall at Parliament last night, showed that while New Zealanders believe immunisation is important, some parents are waiting months after the recommended due date to get their children's jabs.

Though 96 per cent of parents surveyed had their children vaccinated, and 87 per cent had them fully vaccinated, 17 per cent had not immunised their children on time.

The report was commissioned by the Meningitis Foundation and drug company Pfizer New Zealand, and included a phone survey of 1500 adults.

Meningitis Foundation spokesman Paul Gilberd said the report found immunisation rates were on track to meet the Government's targets, but more needed to be done to ensure the community was protected against deadly infectious diseases such as meningitis.

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"Unfortunately [we've] seen first-hand the impact of not vaccinating children against potentially deadly disease," he said.

"Meningitis can develop at frightening speed, leaving victims and parents very little time to seek medical attention. Indeed, this often comes too late."

The Government aims to have 85 per cent of 8-month-olds fully immunised by July this year and 95 per cent by the end of 2014.

The release of the report coincides with a nationwide push for people to be immunised against flu before winter.

The H3N2 virus, similar to the strain that caused a nationwide epidemic to be declared in the United States, was circulating in New Zealand last winter. This year's vaccine offers protection against three strains: A/California (H1N1), A/Victoria (H3N2), and B/Wisconsin.

It is free for pregnant women, those over 65, and those with particular medical conditions.

- The Dominion Post

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