Nation's first free meningococcal vaccine program announced

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

The South Australian government has announced it will become the first state in the nation to fund a free meningococcal B vaccination program.

The scheme will be rolled out from October, and will initially be for babies older than six weeks and children under the age of four. Next year the program will expand to include catch up programs for students in years 10 and 11 and people aged from 17 to 20 years.

South Australia has the worst meningococcal B rates in the country, and an expert working group estimated the scheme would prevent on average 12 cases of the disease each year, and save one life every two years.

"It currently costs parents up to $500 for a full vaccination course to immunise their children - a cost which is out of reach for many," SA Health Minister Stephen Wade said when announcing the scheme.

SA Health chief medical officer Paddy Phillips said with 372 cases and 14 deaths since 2000, the program was designed to target those most at risk.

"We know that meningococcal B disease occurs more frequently in infants and children up to four years of age and young adults aged between 15 to 20 years of age," Professor Phillips said.

"This program would prevent about 12 cases of meningococcal B disease each year and prevent one death every two years, as well as reduce the amount of disability experienced by those who survive the disease."

The vaccination program was proposed by the previous Labor government ahead of the March election.

The parents of a young SA boy who lost his legs and hands to deadly meningococcal B disease say the free vaccine will save lives.

Advertisement

Riley Nixon wasn't yet two years old when he woke up with vomiting and cold-like symptoms and was rushed to hospital.

"(We) got warned he's probably not going to make it," his mum, Amy Wales, said.

"It wasn't until four days later they finally gave us the all clear that he will make it but not without sacrifices."

Ms Wales, who vaccinated Riley after the disease struck, encouraged all parents to take up the offer and immunise their children as soon as possible.

"If it helps even one person not go through what we've been through, it's worth every cent," she said.

"What's a needle if it's going to save your child's life?"