PHARMAC widening access to the meningococcal ACWY vaccine
14 November 2019
The meningococcal ACWY vaccine will be available free from next month for young people in close living situations.
The vaccination will be funded for an estimated 35,000 people, aged between 13 and 25, who live in boarding school hostels, tertiary education halls of residence, military barracks and prisons. After the first year of funding, free vaccinations will only be available to people entering their first year of living in such institutions, which PHARMAC estimates is about 8,000 young people per year.
“We know that reducing the spread of meningococcal disease is important to New Zealanders and it’s important to us too. It’s great when we can make a vaccine available to more people,” says Dr Pete Murray, PHARMAC deputy medical director.
“Our clinical experts told us that teenagers and young adults living in close living situations are one of the highest risk populations which is why we’ve targeted this group.”
The bacterium that causes meningitis is generally carried by people aged 13 to 25 years. Even if they have no symptoms, carriers can infect those around them. Vaccinating this age group would protect young people, decrease the number of carriers and help reduce the spread of meningococcal disease in this at-risk population.
Vaccination is an important way to help prevent the spread of diseases in our communities. Over the past five years PHARMAC has made more vaccinations free including one to prevent babies getting chickenpox, one to prevent older people getting shingles and widened access to the HPV immunisation to include males aged between nine and 26.
Applications for the meningococcal vaccine to be funded for other groups of people are still being considered, as is the funding of meningococcal B vaccine.
Meningococcal disease is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacterium. Meningococcal bacteria are commonly carried in the nose and throat, and do not usually cause disease. Carriage rates are highest in teenagers and young adults.
The bacterium can be spread from carriers or people with meningitis to other people by coughing, sneezing or contact with saliva. Meningococcus is transmitted from person to person through aerosol droplets, respiratory secretions and saliva, so there is risk to family or whānau members of contracting the disease and it may spread through the household and community.
Occasionally an individual who is carrying the bacterium may develop severe disease such as meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain) or septicaemia (blood infection). People who survive meningococcal disease may have long term consequences, including skin scarring, amputation of limbs and extremities, hearing loss, seizures or brain injury.
Adolescents and young adults who live in close proximity to each other in multi-residential institutions are particularly at risk of meningococcal disease due to the ease of transmission from person to person.