A new combination meningococcal vaccine that protects against four strains of the potentially life-threatening disease can now be given to babies as young as two months old.
On Tuesday the Therapeutics Goods Administration approved the vaccine MENVEO for use in infants from eight weeks. The vaccine manufactured by GSK offers immunity for the meningococcal strains A, C, W and Y.
Currently the national immunisation program offers a free vaccine against meningococcal C for 12 month olds.
The new combination vaccine is not subsidised and the cost of the vaccine is likely to vary depending on individual pharmacies and location.
While meningococcal disease was rare, under one-year-olds were at greatest risk and vaccination should be encouraged, infectious diseases expert at Sydney University Professor Robert Booy said.
Under five-year-olds were also at increased risk, with as many as one in 10 children who contract the infection dying of the disease, and roughly one in five could be left with long-term disabilities including brain damage, deafness and limb loss.
“Notifications of meningococcal disease usually peaks in late winter and early spring, so today’s announcement is timely and gives parents a TGA-approved combination ACWY vaccine option to help protect their babies from this potentially devastating condition.”
Overall incidence of invasive meningococcal disease in Australia has decreased since the C vaccine was added to the immunisation schedule.
The number of meningococcal Y and W cases has risen in the past three years by at least 50 per cent, Professor Booy said.
“Protection against multiple strains is important, as the most common strains can change over time,” added Professor Booy.
Meningococcal B is currently the most dominant strain among babies in Australia.
Health authorities have also found the cases of meningococcal W were on the rise, with the NSW government introducing a free vaccine against the strain to all year 11 and 12 students.
The bacterium that causes Meningococcal can infect the blood and membranes around the spinal cord and brain.
Symptoms among infants can include fever, refusing to feed, irritability, tiredness, floppiness, and nausea or vomiting.
If the disease can be fatal if not diagnosed within 24 hours.
The new combination vaccine can also be used in adolescents and adults.
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