A worldwide recall of the BCG vaccine will leave at-risk New Zealand children unable to be inoculated against tuberculosis while the Ministry of Health looks for a new vaccine supplier.
Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that involves the lungs, but may spread to other organs. It can be caught through breathing in air droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person.
The vaccine has been recalled by the manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, after it was feared some might have been contaminated during the manufacturing process.
It is calling for the return of all unused batches after the company found problems with the air quality and could not guarantee the vaccine was sterile.
The TB vaccine is not on the normal schedule of immunisations to be received by children in New Zealand.
The Ministry of Health said in countries where the prevalence of TB was relatively low, the role for BCG vaccination was limited.
It is only offered to people who are considered to be at high risk, such as babies living with a person who currently has or has had TB.
The vaccine was also offered to babies who have one or more parents who lived for a period of 6 months or longer in a country with a TB rate of more than 40 per 100,000 in the last 5 years, and for children under 5 years old who would be living for 3 months or longer in a country with a high rate of TB.
Last month, a 15-year-old Freyberg High School student in Palmerston North was put into isolation after contracting the contagious disease. Those who he had come into contact with all had to be tested.
The MidCentral region alone has seen 13 cases of TB in the past year.
Just under 7000 doses of the vaccine had been distributed in New Zealand since November 2011, but the ministry said not all of these doses would have been given to patients.
While there had been no New Zealand reports of adverse reactions due to a contaminated vaccine, the Ministry said it was important to exercise caution.
Reports of three mild adverse reactions in Canada had been potentially linked to contaminated vaccines.
The Ministry was working to establish a new supplier for the vaccine, but could not say how long that would take.
It said because New Zealand did not have a high rate of TB, the risk of catching it while waiting for a vaccine was low and the treatments for those who had already caught it were still effective.
People infected are prescribed a combination of antibiotics over several months.