By Melissa Grant
A new meningococcal vaccination which covers four strains of the deadly disease is now available on the National Immunisation Program.
The vaccination, Nimenrix, is free for children aged 12 months and covers the A, C, W and Y strains (MenACWY) of meningococcal.
The vaccine was made available on the NIP from 1 July after its listing was recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee earlier this year.
Previously the only free meningococcal vaccine has been for meningococcal C, which was recommended for all children at 12 months of age. Protection against strain B and combined vaccines against the ACWY strains have been available at a cost.
The upgrade to the new quad-strain vaccine comes following a spike of invasive meningococcal cases.
Last year there were 382 meningococcal cases in Australia, compared to 252 cases in 2016 and 182 cases in 2015.
Meningococcal-related deaths also increased to 28 last year. There were 11 deaths in 2016 and 12 deaths in 2015.
Those lucky enough to survive can suffer devastating long-term effects, including loss of arms and legs, deformed arms and legs, scars, deafness, blurred vision, learning difficulties and headaches.
Meningococcal Australia’s Eliza Ault-Connell said it was fantastic the new quad-strain vaccine was being added to the immunisation program, although it did not provide full protection.
“While this is incredible news, it’s still incredibly important parents remain vigilant,” she said.
“Even though they will have access to the new vaccine, they will not be protected against meningococcal B.”
Ms Ault-Connell said there would be a continued push to have strain B vaccines, currently between $120 and $155 per dose, made available for free.
The 36-year-old knows too well about the devastating impacts of meningococcal B – she had both legs amputated below the knee and lost her fingers after contracting the disease when she was 16.
She didn’t wish meningococcal upon anyone.
“I think parents who haven’t been touched by the disease, or people in general, understand how quickly the disease takes hold,” she said.
“You may not feel well during the day and go to sleep and not wake up.”
Anyone can get meningococcal, although certain groups of people are at higher risk of contracting it. Those at a higher risk include children under the age of 5, young people aged between 15 and 24, and people with weakened immune systems due to chronic disease and some medications.
The infection that occurs when meningococcal bacteria from the throat or nose, which up to 20 per cent of people have, invades the body.
Symptoms appear suddenly and death can occur within hours. Urgent medical treatment should be sought if a there is a rash of red/purple pin prick spots or larger bruise-like areas, neck stiffness, discomfort when looking at bright light, fever, headache, nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea. Young children can also experience extreme tiredness or floppiness, and fits or twitching.
A federal department of health spokesperson said steps to secure supplies of the new quad-strain vaccine had been undertaken.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) was due to consider the listing of a MenACWY vaccine for adolescents in March, however there have been no updates.
The government will soon make further information about Nimenrix available at www.health.gov.au/immunisation