Meningococcal vaccine now added to the National Immunisation Program

New reports have shown teenagers may be silent carriers of the meningococcal disease with figures rising over recent years.

In an effort to lower these figures, the Australian Government has announced it will provide funding so teenagers across the nation can be immunised for free as part of the National Immunisation Program.

The facts

Queensland Health’s annual report has shown there were 61 cases of invasive meningococcal disease across the State between 2017 and 2018.

According to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, meningococcal is a rare but serious infection.

“In 2017, there were 382 cases reported nationally compared with 252 cases in 2016 and 182 cases in 2015,” Mr Hunt said.

Director of the NSW Communicable Diseases Branch, Dr Vicky Sheppeard said infants and those aged 15 – 24 were the most commonly affected by meningococcal.

“About 10 per cent of people will carry the bug in the back of their throat, and to most people that causes no harm. But, occasionally, it gets spread and it invades from the throat into the body,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“The carriage rates peak at about 19 years of age and are particularly high in young people who are in residential colleges, military barracks, all those kinds of places where there is a close mixing of young people.

“About 20 per cent of 19-year-olds are carrying the meningococcal bug in the back of their throat, compared to younger and older age groups, where it is perhaps as low as 5 per cent.”

The National Immunisation Program

In response to the rising cases of meningococcal amongst teenagers, the Federal Government has announced it will invest $52 million to add the vaccine to the National Immunisation Program.

An estimated one million 14-19 year-olds will receive the free ACWY meningococcal vaccine from April 2019 over the next four years.

As well as this, a catch-up program will be offered to 15-19 year-olds via their GPs.

“I am absolutely committed to strengthening Australia’s world-class national vaccination program and urge all Australian parents to have their teenagers vaccinated,” Mr Hunt said.