World Meningitis Day: October 5

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Greens call on the Government to make the Meningococcal B vaccine free for infants and teens

Today is World Meningitis Day, which is why this week I spoke in Parliament asking the Minister for Health to fully fund the Meningococcal B vaccine for teens and infants.

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Around 10% of the population carry it in their nose and throat without harm. However, it can invade the body and cause severe disease.

The most common diseases are meningitis and septicaemia. 5-10% of people with invasive meningococcal disease die even with prompt treatment. At least 20% of those who survive are left with significant ongoing impairments, including brain damage, hearing loss, epilepsy, damage to vital organs, and loss of limbs.

Those at highest risk include babies under 12 months, teens and young adults, and elderly people. Globally, meningococcal disease remains a major public health challenge, including in Australia. It’s personal for me – my sister had meningococcal meningitis as a baby. I was 10, and the memory of this terrifying time for our family still brings back strong emotions. She was one of the lucky ones, surviving without significant consequences. Many others tragically don’t.

Recently, I met Abby McGrath, a Ballarat mum who lost her beautiful 19 year old daughter Emma Kate in 2017 to meningococcal sepsis. Emma, a bright compassionate young woman, was studying nursing/paramedicine at Australian Catholic University, before her life was cut short over a 15hr illness. Abby’s grief is bottomless, however she bravely continues to fight to prevent this from happening to anyone else. 

The thing is, it is readily preventable. There are several strains of meningococcus, the most common in Australia currently being B and W. There is a vaccine for strains ACWY and one for strain B. ACWY is on the nationally funded immunisation schedule. But meningoccal B vaccine isn’t. This is despite ATAGI recommending it for infants and young adults. Other states, such as SA and recently QLD, decided to fund meningococcal B vaccine themselves. 

This year, Victoria’s former Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, also recommended that families vaccinate their children against Meningococcal B. However, the cost to families to fully vaccinate a Victorian baby or teen is hundreds of dollars. As a GP, this was always a hard sell, creating awful guilt for parents unable to afford it. 

I urge the Minister for Health to fully fund this vaccine so no other families have to go through what Emma’s have. 

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