A new vaccine for a deadly disease

An important decision this year was the approval of an application to import a genetically modified vaccine.

It will be used to immunise travellers, including military personnel and emergency aid workers, who are sent at short notice to areas where the mosquito-transmitted and potentially deadly Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is endemic.

JEV is endemic to 24 countries, mostly in Asia, but also occurs in northern Queensland and parts of the Western Pacific (though not New Zealand). There is no treatment for it, and death rates can range from 10 to 20 percent. The vaccine currently in use in New Zealand provides immunity via two doses given 28 days apart.

The benefit of the new vaccine is that it only needs a single dose and provides protection within three to seven days. It is approved in 16 other countries and jurisdictions, including Australia, and has an excellent environmental safety record. It has been approved in New Zealand as a prescription-only medicine.

This was the first approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act) for release of a genetically modified organism (GMO) without controls or conditions.