It’s a disease all parents fear. And one that is sweeping across Australia at an alarming rate. In 2017 alone, 382 Aussies were diagnosed with meningococcal disease. 28 people died from it.
But Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt today (2 February) announced the addition of a new meningococcal vaccine for children to the National Immunisation program.
“This is about saving lives, it’s about protecting lives,” Mr Hunt told reporters.
“We are committed to strengthening Australia’s world-class national vaccination program and we urge all Australian parents and carers to have their children vaccinated.”
Meningococcal W strain now covered
Starting this year, children will receive the new Meningococcal vaccine to protect against four different strains of the disease, including the problem W strain.
What parents need to know
More protection at no cost
Under the current regime, children are only protected against meningococcal C with one vaccine given at 12 months. The new schedule would protect against four different strains – A, C, W and Y.
The new vaccine, Nimenrix, will be available to children across Australia from twelve months. Because it is now part of the National Immunisation Program, the vaccine is free of charge.
What is meninococcal disease anyway?
Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial infection that occurs when bacteria from the throat or nose invades the body. It presents initially just like a common cold or fever but can quickly escalate.
Additional symptoms include refusal to eat, extreme tiredness, vomiting or diarrhoea, pale, grey or blotchy skin, cold hands and feet and sensitivity to light.
Which strains are the problems?
All strains can have devastating consequences if not treated quickly and correctly. According to Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, there has been an increase in the number of cases of the Y and W strains in the past few years.
“The W strain is the one that’s caused most of the concern with cases increasing both last year and the previous year,” he said.
What about B?
Meningococcal B is another strain that can impact Aussie kids. Currently there is a vaccine available, but at a cost. This is set to remain the same.
What more do I need to know?
To find out more about the current vaccination program, see the Immunise Australia Program.
Note: The new vaccine will be added to the schedule once it is readily available, next peak season.
Currently all Aussie children are protected against a number of life-threatening diseases through vaccines, including whooping cough, diphtheria and measles, mumps and rubella. However, it is up to us parents to keep on track and up to date with our kids’ vaccines.
Although it is not against the law (yet) to refuse to vaccinate your kids, families may be cut off from financial assistance under the No Jab No Pay system.