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Meningococcal disease

What is invasive meningococcal disease?

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a rare but serious infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis that usually causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Up to 10 per cent of IMD infections are fatal even with appropriate antibiotic treatment, and survivors may be left with long-term complications. There are several serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis which cause invasive disease in Australia: A, B, C, W and Y.

Who is most at risk from meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease can affect any age group. Although the disease is more common in adolescents and young infants it is important to remember that people of any age can be infected.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

The symptoms of meningococcal disease can include: fever, headache, neck stiffness, muscle or joint pains, drowsiness, confusion, nausea and vomiting and a rash of red-purple spots or bruises.

Common symptoms of meningococcal disease in babies include: fever, rapid breathing, rash, vomiting, irritability, drowsiness, poor feeding and pale skin.

If you or someone you know develops symptoms or signs consistent with meningococcal disease consult your family doctor or the Emergency Department of the closest hospital immediately.

Where can I get more information about meningococcal disease?

See the Meningococcal disease fact sheet for more information about meningococcal disease.

The Meningococcal W Response Program

What is the Meningococcal W Response Program?

The NSW Meningococcal W Response Program is offering a single dose of meningococcal ACWY vaccine to older adolescents as part of the NSW School-based Vaccination Program. In 2017 over 120,000 Year 11 and 12 students were vaccinated in schools, and in GP practices. In 2018 the vaccine is being offered to Year 10 and 11 students and in 2019 it will be offered to Year 10 students.

The program is in response to an increase of meningococcal infection caused by a particular type of the bacteria, meningococcal serogroup W.

Additionally from 1 July 2018 the meningococcal ACWY vaccine has replaced the meningococcal C vaccine previously offered as part of the National Immunisation Program to all infants at 12 months of age.

Why is this vaccination program necessary?

Cases of a particular type of meningococcal disease (meningococcal W) have been increasing nationally. Evidence from Australia and overseas suggest that IMD caused by meningococcal W is significantly more severe than the other serogroups currently circulating. The current epidemiology is similar to that observed in some parts of South America and the United Kingdom where meningococcal W rapidly emerged and established local transmission. Without intervention it is anticipated that cases will continue to increase.

National immunisation experts advise that targeting older adolescents will protect them directly, and will also likely reduce long term impact on the broader community, as this age group is most likely to transmit the bacteria to others in the community, including young children.

Why is the program targeting older adolescents?

Some of the highest rates of meningococcal carriage and illness occur among adolescents and young adults. This age group can transmit the bacteria to people who are at increased risk of infection, including young children. By vaccinating people in this age group not only are they directly protected but it may decrease carriage of serogroup W. Reducing carriage in this age group will reduce transmission of the bacteria to others and help prevent infections within the broader community.

How will the 2018 program work?

The 2018 program is being offered to students in Years 10 and 11 in all secondary schools in NSW. The program is being delivered through the NSW School-based Vaccination Program that reaches all NSW secondary schools in the public, independent and Catholic sectors.

Parents of Year 10 and 11 students should have received meningococcal ACWY vaccination consent materials through their child’s school in early 2018. 

To ensure all older adolescents have the opportunity to be protected, those aged from 15 to 19 years who have not received their meningococcal ACWY vaccine at school are encouraged to see their GP before the end of 2018 for a free vaccine

What is the target population size?

An estimated 180,000 students in Years 10 and 11 (including adolescents of that age no longer in formal schooling) are eligible for vaccination in 2018.

Which vaccine will be used?

A single dose of quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine that protects against four serogroups of meningococcal disease (A, C, W and Y) will be offered to Year 10 and 11 students. In addition to providing protection for meningococcal W, this conjugate vaccine will provide additional protection against serogroups A, C and Y. This will also provide a booster dose of meningococcal C vaccine that infants previously received at 12 months of age. From 1 July 2018 the12 month meningococcal C vaccine previously offered as part of the National Immunisation Program has changed to meningococcal ACWY for all infants at 12 months of age.

How effective is the meningococcal ACWY vaccine?

Studies have shown that the effectiveness of the meningococcal ACWY vaccines is between 80-85% in adolescents. Meningococcal ACWY vaccination programs have been implemented in adolescents in the UK since 2015, and in the US since 2005.

What are the side effects of the vaccine and how do we know it is safe?

This vaccine is safe and effective. The US and UK have routinely used this vaccine in large numbers of adolescents overseas with no safety signals of concern. As with any vaccines local swelling and pain will occur in a small percentage of recipients.

Why not implement a vaccination program against meningococcal B?

In contrast to meningococcal serogroups A, C, W & Y cost-effectiveness of the meningococcal B vaccine has not been demonstrated. Further, year on year meningococcal B cases in Australia have been decreasing, and while still a very serious disease, the circulating strains of meningococcal B disease do not show the same levels of mortality as is seen with meningococcal W disease.

Can the vaccine cause meningococcal disease?

No. Only the Neisseria meningitidis bacterium can cause meningococcal disease. The vaccine does not contain any live bacteria.

How much will this program cost?

The estimated cost for the NSW Meningococcal W Response Program in 2017 and 2018 is $9 million.

What is the national response?

The NSW Government made the decision to start a vaccination program in 2017 to reduce spread within the community, and protect NSW adolescents from this disease. The NSW Government takes the risks posed by meningococcal disease very seriously and continues to monitor international responses and has been working with the Australian Government on a national response to this potentially fatal disease. In February 2018 the Australian Minister for Health announced that meningococcal ACWY vaccine would be offered to children at 12 months of age under the National Immunisation Program from July 2018.

Isn’t this vaccine already given to infants?

Yes. From 1 July 2018 the meningococcal ACWY vaccine is offered as part of the National Immunisation Program to all infants at 12 months of age. Previously infants received a meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months of age under the National Immunisation Program, but it did not provide protection against the A, B, W and Y serogroups.

Why can’t the vaccine be included in the existing Year 7 vaccination program?

Current expert advice is that the vaccine is optimally given to older adolescents. These recommendations may be modified following implementation of this program and ongoing monitoring of disease notifications. Early indications demonstrate good individual protection for vaccine recipients.

Can I get a reimbursement from the Government if my child has received a vaccine that I paid for?

There are no provisions to reimburse families for private vaccine purchase.

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Page Updated: Friday 29 June 2018
Contact page owner: Communicable Diseases