The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warmly welcomed the Queensland Government making the meningococcal B vaccine free for all infants and children under the age of two, and adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.
Coming into effect next year, the vaccinations will form part of the routine childhood and school immunisation programs for eligible cohorts, as recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, or ATAGI. The National Immunisation Program, or NIP, for infants and adolescents covers the ACWY strains of meningococcal. However, the B strain requires an additional self-funded immunisation for children of normal risk – at a cost of approximately $200 to 300 for the required two doses. South Australia is the only state that funds a vaccination program for meningococcal B for the broader population.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed the announcement.
“This is great decision from the Queensland Government and one that will potentially save lives,” she said.
“Meningococcal B must be taken seriously. This is a rare but terrible disease that without urgent care can result in death or disability. Just a few years ago, a two-year-old died from meningococcal B at my practice and it is something that you never forget. Many people may not realise that meningococcal serogroups B and W are currently responsible for most meningococcal disease in Australia. The B strain is the most common cause of invasive meningococcal disease in children, adolescents, and young adults.
“Between 1997 and 2016, it is estimated that 396 people died from meningococcal disease and 32% of those deaths happened to children aged less than five. It’s a dangerous disease for those who make it through too, 25% of people who get this disease end up with a disability.
“Families have a lot on their plate, and many parents and carers may think that their children are already immunised against this disease. It’s only when they check their children’s immunisation schedules that they realise they are not immunised against meningococcal B. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a high level of awareness in the community that a different vaccine is needed for meningococcal B and that is something I would like to see change because this disease is a killer.
“There is evidence that meningococcal B is emerging as a more common cause of death and one reason may be a result of widespread vaccination in the community against the other meningococcal strains. Meningococcal B must be a priority, so I applaud the Queensland Government for making this investment and encourage all families to take full advantage of the free jabs. Given high cost of living pressures, this announcement could not come at a better time.
“We join AMA Queensland in saying that we hope the federal Government takes note of this timely decision and adds the B strain vaccine to the National Immunisation Program so all young people across Australia are protected from this terrible disease.”
RACGP spokespeople are available for comment.