There❜s A New Meningococcal Vaccine That You Probably Don❜t Know About

  • Parents Only

By: Alex Harmon, ellaslist 

Meningococcal disease makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Just recently a baby in Darwin died after contracting the disease - the scary thing is the bub had only started displaying symptoms less than 12 hours earlier. But do you know what's really scary? There is a vaccine against the disease that is readily avaible in Australia - yet know one seems to be talking about it.

At 12 months your child is given a vaccine against meningococcal strain C - but there are actually 5 other stains found in Australia that you should be protected against from the age of 2 months. These are not on the list that you're given through the National Immunisation Program Schedule when your baby is born. Instead it is something that parents must choose to do after speaking to their GP. 

Therapeutic Goods Administration has just approved a new combination vaccine that protects against 4 other strains, most importantly the W and Y strain, of which cases have doubled in the past three years. Up until now a vaccine hasn't been available.

So Why Isn't It A Given (& Free)?

Well, as mentioned, a lot don't know about it. But quite franky, the reason people aren't lining up for it is because it's not cheap. GSK, the company which manufactures the vaccine, says the cost will vary depending on “circumstances, region and individual pharmacies” but generally one dose costs between $80 and $100 - and a two-month old baby requires four doses. It is also advised that healthy adults be vaccinated as they can be carriers of the disease. Again, this is at a personal cost. 

How Is The Disease Contracted?

Meningococcal is spread through saliva droplets, so it can be transmitted through kissing, sneezing and coughing and is more common amongst young children because of their desrire to share toys and put them in their mouths. Health experts say the bad flu season this year may have provoked more cases, because the flu virus damages and inflames the throat and allows bacteria like meningococcal to form. 

While not sharing drinks or toys or kissing can reduce your risk of infection, the only real protection is through this new vaccination.

What The Disease Does

Although the majority of victims will recover fully, 10% of those infected will die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities -- ranging from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts.

Symptoms among infants can include fever, refusing to feed, irritability, tiredness, floppiness, and nausea or vomiting. If your child has symptoms of meningococcus they will be treated in hospital with antibiotics, but it needs to be treated urgently, within 24 hours. 

Meningococcal Australia are currently campaigning to see more meningococcal vaccines made a part of the National Immunisation Program so the cost does not prevent families from getting immunised.

To find out more about the vaccine, please consult with your GP.