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Meningococcal vaccinations: Exploring the debate in Australia

 

Meningococcal is a rare disease with devastating effects. The very worst case scenarios can involve brain damage, organ failure, and even death. In Australia, these disastrous outcomes can deeply concern parents who aren’t able to vaccinate their child against meningococcal.

Bexsero, a relatively new vaccine, can protect children against the virulent meningococcal strain B.  However, Bexsero is not currently included in the federal government’s National Immunisation Program. This has been a controversial topic amongst parents, especially as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline announced there would be a global shortage of Bexsero vaccines from the end of 2016.

According to reports, a worldwide shortage resulted from countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland implementing the Bexsero vaccine as part of their national public health schemes. Globally, there is now a much higher demand for the meningococcal-B vaccination and very little supply available.

Why hasn’t Bexsero been added to Australia’s National Immunisation Program before now?

In 2013, a ruling from the federal Department of Heath determined the meningococcal-B vaccine would save less than 10 lives, over a five year period. However, the cost for implementing these vaccinations would be over $400 million. Unfortunately, this has made meningococcal less of a priority for the government, when compared to other infectious diseases like the measles, mumps and rubella.

Within Australia’s current privatised system, the Bexsero vaccine costs around $120 per injection. This is an expense that most Aussie families cannot easily afford, especially if they have a number of children to care for. Even though meningococcal can respond to intense antibiotic therapy, many parents remain fearful of the disease, which has a fatality rate of 10 – 15%.

Without vaccinations, are Australian children at a higher risk of contracting meningococcal?

 

“Due to the cost of Bexsero, meningococcal vaccinations are typically reserved for children who might be at increased risk of contracting meningococcal,” explains Dr Harvey, the Deputy Medical Director at House Call Doctor. “For example, children who have been exposed to meningococcal at their school or day-care may need the Bexsero vaccine as an important preventative method.”

Dr Ryan Harvey is in fact one of the few doctors within Queensland who has treated meningococcal occurring in toddlers. Incredibly, all of Dr Harvey’s meningococcal patients have survived and gone on to lead full and enriched lives.

“If parents suspect their child has meningococcal, they should seek immediate medical intervention, as patients can go from seeming their normal selves to needing intensive care within a matter of hours,” says Dr Harvey. “The disease is characterised by a distinctive red, purple or black rash, that does not fade when pressure is applied.”

“Fortunately within our community, meningococcal is still far less prevalent than other infectious diseases, and there is a strong level of public awareness about the disease and its symptoms,” says Dr Harvey.

For more information on the National Immunisation Program, visit the federal Department of Health online.  If you suspect that your child has meningococcal, immediately phone Triple 0 (000) and request an Ambulance. If your child needs acute medical care, that does not warrant an Emergency response, phone House Call Doctor on 13 55 66.