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Vaccine program to combat meningococcal disease

Federal government approves free national vaccine program to combat meningococcal disease

The Government has approved a national meningococcal disease vaccination program that will provide free meningococcal vaccines for all Australian children aged 12 months and 15 years, the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson announced today.

Also included in the first year of the national program will be free vaccines for adolescents aged 16 and 17 years to ensure the greatest number of children in high risk age groups for meningococcal disease get access to free vaccines.

The free vaccine program will begin in early 2003.

The national meningococcal vaccination program will cost $41 million to implement in its first year. The Federal Government has also made a long-term commitment to fund a national meningococcal vaccination program for the next 14 years.

Senator Patterson said: "Today's decision to introduce a national meningococcal vaccination program is a responsible and pro-active approach to meningococcal disease management in this country.

"This approach ensures free vaccine is made available to the key age groups affected by meningococcal disease and it will, in time, have a significant impact on the number of meningococcal disease cases in Australia and will save lives."

Senator Patterson said a worldwide shortage of meningococcal vaccine had meant an effective national vaccination campaign could not be started earlier than next year.

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Around 1.1 million doses of vaccine are required for the proposed national program. Currently there is only one registered supplier of the new conjugate vaccine in Australia and a current supply of about 100,000 doses available to the end of this year. Two other vaccine manufacturers currently have meningococcal C-type vaccines being considered for registration by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use in Australia.

"More doses of the meningococcal group C conjugate vaccine are expected in the country in the coming months and my Department is working closely with industry to monitor available supply. The shortages are a global problem," Senator Patterson said.

The majority of meningococcal cases seen in Australia are meningococcal type-B disease (62 per cent) for which there is presently no vaccine on the market. About 32 per cent of all meningococcal cases in Australia are the type-C bacteria for which the new vaccine program will provide protection.

Today's announcement follows recent detailed expert scientific advice and economic analysis on meningococcal disease and vaccination issues by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Senator Patterson said the current vaccine shortage situation further emphasised the importance of both doctors and the general public being aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease.

"Late last year my Department published the latest early clinical and public health management guidelines for meningococcal disease in Australia which is an important guidebook for clinicians who may be faced with a meningococcal disease case," Senator Patterson said. "As part of the meningococcal vaccination program, we will be delivering a targeted information program for clinicians, health workers, and the community."


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