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Free access to meningococcal B vaccination for high risk patients


Anastasia Tsirtsakis


13/07/2020 3:33:23 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and people at risk of invasive meningococcal disease will be eligible under the NIP.

Aboriginal mother and child.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged under two have four times the risk of contracting Meningococcal B compared with non-Indigenous children.

While rare in Australia, meningococcal can be a devastating disease.
 
Typically, within 24–48 hours after the onset of symptoms, even with an early diagnosis and treatment, between 5% and 10% of patients will die. That figure increases to 50% if left untreated.
 
Meningococcal B remains the most predominant strain in Australia, mainly affecting infants and young children – a risk that significantly increases for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
 
Following recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and other clinical experts, as of 1 July, access to the meningococcal B vaccine has broadened under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants aged two and under.
 
GP Dr Tanya Schramm, a Palawa woman, told newsGP the decision is of ‘great importance’.
 
‘Especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged under two, as the risk of contracting meningococcal B is four times higher than the general community due to the determinates of health, especially overcrowded housing,’ she said.
 
The meningococcal B vaccine will be given at the same time as other routine baby vaccinations at two, four and 12 months. Children with medical conditions that put them at risk of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) will receive an additional dose at six months.
 
There will be a catch-up program for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged under two years until 30 June 2023.
 
The number and interval between doses will depend on the age of the first meningococcal vaccination, with further guidance in the Australian Immunisation Handbook
 
Dr Schramm encouraged GPs to be proactive in informing and educating patients about the vaccine.
 
‘I would urge all GPs to contact all parents or guardians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged under two who may be eligible and [to] discuss the importance of the meningococcal B vaccination, and the risk of invasive meningococcal disease,’ she said.
 
‘There are posters available to display in waiting rooms as well to help get the message out.’
 
In an effort to help the implement the new program, the hepatitis A vaccination schedule on the NIP has also changed.
 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the NT, Queensland, SA and WA will now receive their first dose of the hepatitis A vaccine at age 18 months, instead of 12 months, and receive the second dose at four years of age, instead of 18 months.
 
Access to the meningococcal B vaccine, as well as meningococcal ACWY vaccination, has also been broadened under the NIP to include people of all ages with specified medical conditions that increase their risk of IMD, including: 

  • defects in, or deficiency of, complement components, including factor H, factor D or properdin deficiency
  • current or future treatment with eculizumab
  • functional or anatomical asplenia, including sickle cell disease or other haemoglobinopathies, and congenital or acquired asplenia
People with these risk conditions are also eligible for pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, if required, under the NIP.
 
While Dr Schramm welcomes the NIP changes, she says further advocacy is needed to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases among vulnerable communities.
 
‘We should continue to advocate for better housing and living conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’ she said. 
 
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health B Meningococcal National Immunisation Program vaccination



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