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  • Dr Nicole White

Meningococcal Vaccines Explained

Updated: Jun 29, 2018


Tragic stories of Meningococcal disease frequently make it into the media creating a sense of fear, particularly among parents.  This is a serious disease, however, the good news is vaccinations are available to protect your family.  Read on to learn more. 






What is Meningococcal Disease?


Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection which can cause serious disease and even death in those exposed.  In it's most severe form it presents as meningitis or septicaemia.  Less severe forms can include pneumonia, arthritis, pericarditis and conjunctivitis.    


How bad is it?


Not everyone who is exposed will get severe Meningococcal disease.  Of those who do, 10% will die and 20% will be left with a permanent disability including loss of limbs, organ failure, vision or hearing impairment and learning difficulties. 


Symptoms of severe Meningococcal disease include fever, purple non-blanching rash, headache, neck stiffness, photophobia (intolerance of light,) altered consciousness, joint pains, nausea and vomiting. 


How can I catch Meningoccocal Disease?



Meningococcal infection is transmitted in respiratory droplets through coughing and sneezing.  Some people can carry the Meningococal bacteria in their nose without ever developing any symptoms or signs – this is more common in smokers. 


Symptoms of infection generally develop within 3-4 days of exposure.




The groups most at risk are infants under the age of 5 years and young adults aged 15-24. 

Most cases tend to occur in Winter or early Spring.


Are there vaccinations available?



In Australia we see 5 strains of Meningococcus: A, B, C, W and Y.


B and C have been the most common but we are seeing an increase in cases of W and Y in our country.   


Meningococcal B  is the most common cause of invasive meningococcal disease in children and young adults.  


Meningococcal C is rare since the introduction of a vaccination (Menitorix) which until now has been given at 12 months of age as part of the National Immunisation Program. 


There is no single vaccination that covers all strains of Meningococcal infection.   There are separate vaccinations which, in combination, can provide protection against the 5 main strains of Meningococcal disease seen in Australia.  These are outlined below. 


Meningococcus B – Bexsero

This is not part of the National Immunisation Program but is available as a privately purchased vaccine at a cost of around $150 per dose. 


2-4 doses are required depending on the age at which the vaccines are started.


Bexsero can be given from 2 months of age.


Meningococcal C – Menitorix


Given as a single vaccination at 12 months as part of the National Immunisation Program (Government Funded) for all children born prior to 1 July 2017.


Meningococcal ACWY – Menactra, Menveo, Nimenrix


This is a combination vaccine which covers 4 strains of meningococcal disease. 


From 1 July 2018 this vaccine will be given to 12 month old babies as part of the National schedule. This replaces the Menitorix above which was previously given.


This vaccine also appears on the routine schedule and will be government funded for adolescents aged 15-19.


If your child turned 1 before 1 July 2017 they will not be eligible for a free vaccination under the government program, however, the vaccine is available privately at around $150 per dose.


Further information around the new changes to the schedule can be found here.


Who Should be Vaccinated?


Vaccination against Meningococcal disease is recommended for the following groups:

  1. Those with immune deficiency

  2. Those in high risk occupations

  3. Infants and young children

  4. Adolescents and young adults

  5. Travellers to destinations with an increased risk of meningococcal disease

  6. Any other individual who wishes to reduce their risk of invasive meningococcal disease.

What are the side effects of vaccination?



Pain and redness at the injection site

Fever

Nausea and decreased appetite

Rash

Irritability

Headache





How Can I access these vaccinations?


These vaccines are available at GP4Kids and Kedron Wavell Medical Centre.  Please discuss further with your GP or the practice nurse for more information.


References:

Australian Immunisation Handbook www.immunise.health.gov.au

National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance www.ncirs.edu.au

Meningococcal Australia www.meningococcal.org.au