Meningococcal vaccine: How long does the vaccine protection last and are there side effects?

We put the questions to the experts.

By Bettina Tyrrell
Tasmania is currently facing a meningoccoal scare with four cases of the disease detected in the state in the past two weeks. Tragically, one case was fatal.
Many are now wondering what vaccinations are available for themselves and their families, how long the meningococcal vaccination lasts and what the are side effects of the meningococcal vaccination?
The Australian Women's Weekly, spoke with Head of the Clinical Research team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), Professor Robert Booy, to learn more about the meningococcal vaccine.
Professor Booy stresses the Meningococcal vaccine is safe.

Firstly, what exactly is meningococcal disease?

The disease itself is actually quite rare. The danger it presents comes from how fast acting, and how devastating it is when it does strike.
Meningococcal Australia is a great resource for families and best describes meningococcal as:
  • Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognised and treated in time.
  • The meningococcal bacteria are spread through droplets from the nose or throat through sneezing or coughing.
  • In Australia there are 5 main strains of the disease, all of which now have vaccinations available from your doctor when supplies allow. As of July 1, the ACWY vaccine replaced the C vaccine. It is free on the National Immunisation Program (for children 12 months of age) but does NOT protect against all strains of the disease.
  • Although the majority of victims will recover fully, 10 percent of those infected will die, and around 20 percent will have permanent disabilities - ranging from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts.
  • One of the reasons meningococcal disease is hard to identify is that it can appear in several different forms, depending on which part of the body the bacteria invade: meningitis (affecting the brain and spinal cord) or septicaemia (affecting the blood), or a combination of both.

What are the side effects of the meningococcal vaccine?

Professor Booy explains all vaccines have side effects, but the sides effects of the meningococcal vaccine are far less severe than actually contracting the disease.
"You can get local reactions, and by that I mean redness, soreness and swelling on the leg or arm where the vaccine is given," says Professor Booy.
"So there's local reactions and more generally you can get a high fever, which usually lasts for one or two days. It's recommended that children given the Men B vaccine, are routinely required to be offered and given paracetamol because of the risk of getting a fever in the first day or two."
"It's important to underline that the vaccination is safe and the side effects that I describe are much, much less than getting the disease, getting the disease is awful. Getting a fever for a day or two or a sore arm or leg for a couple of days is nowhere near as severe."
What is possibly more problematic than side effects of the meningococcal 'Men B' vaccine, is the cost of getting it.
"The problem with the men B vaccine is that for most people it's not yet free, so parent shave to pay over $100 to get a dose, and children usually require at least three doses, so it is expensive, but it is safe."
In Australia, children can be vaccinated for five strains of meningococcal, but the ACWY vaccine is the only one currently funded by taxpayers meaning it's free for the patient.
South Australia however, is the first state in the country to introduce free meningococcal B vaccinations for babies and young people.
Meanwhile, in Tasmania vaccines covering the A, C, W and Y meningococcal strains will be available free for under-21s for the next three months, due to the recent cases of the disease, reports the ABC.

How long does the meningococcal vaccine last?

Professor Booy says vaccine protection should last 5 to 10 years, although its cover could be longer, but the vaccine hasn't been used long enough to know.
"To understand whether a vaccine protects more than five years you have to vaccinate people more than five years ago, and we've only been vaccinating people in the last few years. So we know it will protect for 5 to 10 years, but possibly for longer."
If you want to know more about meningococcal or meningococcal vaccinations, speak with your trusted General Practitioner.

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