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12 Dec 2016

Health groups are calling for two meningococcal vaccines to be included in the National Immunisation Program, following an increase in cases of the previously uncommon W strain.

Cases have been recorded this year in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland, prompting the Meningitis Centre Australia to launch a campaign to lobby the Government to subsidise the Men B and ACWY vaccines.

Vaccines are available in Australia for five strains, but only the C strain vaccine is available free as part of the free National Immunisation Program.

Centre chairman, Bruce Langoulant, said cases of W strain were expected to double in 2017.

"This is a vaccine preventable disease. All children should be protected against it and the Federal Government should put this on the National Immunisation Plan," Mr Langoulant said.

Dr Richard Kidd, Chair of the AMA Council on General Practice, said it was a “nasty infection” that was on the rise.

"With the other strains where we're seeing maybe one person in 10 die with those infections, with this new W strain … it's more like one in four people die," Dr Kidd told the ABC.

He called on the Australian Government to follow Britain’s lead and introduce a program to vaccinate teenagers against A, C, and W strains, as people can unknowingly carry the germ without being sick.

"If we can vaccinate enough people, we can even stop the carriers who spread it like Typhoid Mary without even knowing they've got it," he said.

A meningococcal B strain vaccine being used in Britain had also been shown to give young children significant protection against the W strain, he said.

"What's happened is that, because Australia is at the end of the supply chain, we can't get that vaccine at the moment because England and some other countries are gobbling it all up and they're in front of us in the supply chain,” Dr Kidd said.

Associate Professor Charlene Kahler, of the University of Western Australia, said that with 12 cases of the W strain recorded in WA this year, the vaccine was needed.

“We’ve been watching strain W for the last three years,” she told the Perth launch of the lobbying campaign.

“It’s been doubling each year since 2013, and we would predict next year it will double again without any intervention.

“The most at-risk individuals are the very young – under the age of two – and young adults.”

Head of clinical research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Professor Robert Booy, said while other strains of the virus affected certain age groups, the W strain affected all ages, and could put healthy people “at death’s door” within 12 hours.

Meanwhile, the shingles vaccine is now available free to for people aged 70 years under the National Immunisation Program, with a catch-up program for people aged 71 – 79 years.

It is the first adult vaccine for a new disease to be added to the Program since 2005.

“This new program is an important reminder that vaccinations don’t stop at childhood,” Health Minister Sussan Ley said.

Maria Hawthorne


Published: 12 Dec 2016