Funding for vaccine development to help prevent rheumatic fever

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall has announced today the Government is supporting the development of a vaccine to help prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

“Rheumatic fever can have a devastating impact, especially for Māori and Pacific children and young people,” Ayesha Verrall said.

“As an infectious diseases doctor, I cared for rangatahi who experienced some of the worst outcomes from this illness. Several had heart valve replacements that became infected, and some suffered strokes. I remember one young woman who needed a heart transplant, and later tragically died.”

The University of Auckland will lead research next year into the vaccine development, which will complement existing work underway in Australia.

“Because New Zealand and Australia are among the few developed countries to still have rheumatic fever, it makes sense for us to collaborate to develop a vaccine. This $10 million investment will help ensure the vaccine is appropriate for the strains of Strep A circulating in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Ayesha Verrall said.

Funding will also support activities such as enhanced surveillance of Group A streptococcus, more infrastructure for laboratory testing, and preparations to ensure Aotearoa New Zealand is ready to conduct clinical trials.

In 2020/21, 107 people were hospitalised for the first time with rheumatic fever in New Zealand.

Other Government action to reduce rheumatic fever includes the expansion of the Healthy Homes Initiative to prevent childhood hospitalisations - by increasing the number of children living in warm, dry homes.

  • Rheumatic fever starts from a strep throat infection, and causes the heart, joints, brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.
  • People who’ve caught rheumatic fever need to have monthly antibiotic injections for at least 10 years, to prevent it returning - and developing into rheumatic heart disease.
  • Māori and Pacific tamariki and rangatahi between the ages of four and 19 years old have the highest rates of rheumatic fever. Among Pacific peoples, rheumatic fever occurs mainly in Samoan and Tongan children and young people.

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has published a report today on rheumatic fever. This Evidence Summary found preventing strep throat infection through vaccination could make a significant difference to the rates of infection and subsequent complications of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

You can read it here: https://www.pmcsa.ac.nz/topics/antimicrobial-resistance-and-infectious-disease/rheumatic-fever