Teenagers would still be alive if they had known about meningococcal vaccinations, father believes

A father is convinced that his daughter and two other young people would still be alive if the Ministry of Health had pushed for wider community meningococcal disease vaccination.

Miwa Chapman was just 19 when she felt unwell after returning from a party with friends at the University of Canterbury in February last year and died a day later from meningitis.

Last week, another student from the same university, Theo Edwards, 21, died from the same disease. In 2019, 26-year-old Kelsey Davidson, founder of Radical Step Dance Studio in Fendalton, died of a suspected meningococcal disease.

Miwa’s father Paul Chapman believed all three would not have died if they had been vaccinated against the disease, and not enough was being done by health authorities in highlighting meningitis vaccinations.

“I didn’t get Miwa vaccinated because I didn’t know there was one, and I don’t think many people would know that these vaccinations are free for young people living in close-living situations,” Chapman said.

“All three of these deaths could have been avoided if there had been more publicity around the availability of vaccinations.”

He said the Ministry of Health was far from being proactive in encouraging parents to vaccinate their children from meningococcal.

“No young person, but especially any teenagers living in student halls or flats, should be unvaccinated against meningitis.The risk is too high and the results too terrible,” Chapman said.

Miwa passed away from Meningococcal Septicaemia less than 24 hours after contracting it.

“Words can’t express the impact this tragedy has had on me and my family,” he said.

“It was especially sad for me to learn that the Ministry of Health had taken some important steps last year to increase the availability of meningitis vaccinations for young people and that this could have saved my daughter’s life.”

A free meningococcal vaccination is available for young people aged 13 to 25 years in their first year of living in places like boarding school hostels or tertiary education halls of residence. Until November 30, 2021, the vaccine is also free for people currently living in those close conditions.

“There was little or no communication about this availability, and that’s what frustrates me,” he said.

Chapman said he rushed to get his 17-year-old son vaccinated at their GP when he learned about the vaccination after Miwa’s death.

According to the Ministry of Health figures, there had been 26 meningococcal related deaths since 2018, with 10 each in 2018 and 2019, and three each in 2020 and this year.

Chapman said he was doing everything he can in his personal capacity to raise awareness of meningitis and its vaccination and has written to the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and the University of Health urging them to take a more proactive approach.

Miwa was born in Tokyo but moved here as a child, and had attended Dio and King’s College.

“She’s fluent in both Japanese and English, was doing engineering and would have been such an asset to the world,” Chapman said.

Just two months before she died, Miwa attended Outward Bound.

“Miwa returned from Outward Bound fired up with the joy of life, highly motivated and deeply confident in her ability to achieve whatever she set her mind to,” Chapman said.

“I still can’t believe she’s gone, but we still feel so blessed to have had her even if it was for far too short a time.

“I’m not the type who likes to front for a media story, I’m doing this just in the hope that no other parent will have to go through what we went through as a result of this terrible disease.”

A ministry spokeswoman said meningococcal disease can be life-threatening and teenagers and adults living closely together are especially high risk.

“The ministry is always saddened to hear of cases such as Mr Chapman’s daughter and has been in touch directly with him. The loss of young people to this disease is particularly heart breaking,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the free vaccine protects against four of the five strains of the disease. A vaccine for the fifth, Meningococcal B strain was available but is not funded.

She said information has been sent to boarding schools, student health services and university halls of residence. It also communicated with the health sector and encouraged GPs to vaccinate eligible patients.

“The ministry continues to look for opportunities to promote the vaccine and increase uptake,” she said.

“Pharmac is responsible for setting which vaccines are free, for who and for how long.”

The bacteria which cause meningococcal disease can be spread by respiratory and throat secretions, but generally require close and prolonged contact.

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses, such as the flu. Symptoms can develop suddenly and include a high fever, headache, sleepiness, joint and muscle pains.

There can also be some more specific symptoms, such as a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, vomiting, crying, refusal to feed in infants and a rash consisting of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises.

The spokeswoman said it’s very important to act fast for people with symptoms irrespective of whether they have been vaccinated or not. Call Healthline on 0800 611116 as soon as possible.

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