Meningitis support for WA expanded vaccines

still from meningitis campaign, girl and guy talking

The launch of a new campaign to encourage meningococcal vaccination has lent support to WA pharmacy’s bid to expand its vaccination service

Meningitis Centre Australia has launched a new campaign aimed at 15 to 19 year olds, informing them that they can access the ACWY vaccine for free at schools or health clinics.

Lisa D’Cruz, spokesperson for the Centre, told the AJP that due to an increase in cases of meningoccal W in Western Australia, the state government had funded the vaccine for 15 to 19 year olds – but the free scheme does have limitations.

Cases had increased from one in 2013 to four in 2015, and 14 in 2016. So far there have been seven cases this year.

“They chose that age group because they’re the most socially active age group, where a lot of this meningococcal bug can be transmitted – through sharing of bottles, deep kissing, or just hanging out in close-knit groups,” Ms D’Cruz says.

“They have a lot of late nights, they’re at uni or school and studying, they may get up early or stay up late working and studying. So their immune systems can be run down and they may become more susceptible to these kind of bugs.

“This vaccine is only available through the school system – and not all are at school – or the local health clinics, and not all of those are serviced every day from nine to five.

“Some may operate on the second Monday of the month for an hour or so. So we have proposed to the state Government, with the help of the Pharmacy Guild of WA, that they look at allowing pharmacists to inject the ACWY vaccine in-store to 18 and 19 year olds.”

Increased accessibility via pharmacy would also be beneficial due to the rural and remote nature of some settlements, and the distances involved, she says.

“Where there aren’t GPs, there are pharmacists in town, or near to town. Making it more accessible via pharmacy would be ideal, because without increasing the acceptance of this vaccine, we can’t increase herd immunity.”

Pharmacy Guild of Australia – WA Branch president Stephen Wragg told the AJP that it was encouraging to see pharmacists increasingly widely recognised as being able to assist with increasing immunisation rates.

“Meningitis Centre Australia noted that only 30% of young people are currently being vaccinated [against meningococcal] and pharmacy may be able to be involved to help.”

Support from the Centre and other interested parties have lent weight to the Western Australian Strategy for Immunisation Services Delivered by Pharmacists in Community Pharmacy, prepared late last year by the PSA, WA Guild, University of Western Australia and Curtin University.

The strategy makes a number of proposals, including broadening the range of vaccinations currently offered in pharmacy; and decreasing the age of eligibility for pharmacist-delivered immunisation to five years and older.

“Pharmacists are excited to be used to the extent of their scope of practice as has occurred overseas,” Mr Wragg says.

“Each of the states is progressing toward improving overall immunisation rates, particularly in the area of measles, mumps and rubella, and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

“And I think one of the critical successes that isn’t recognised yet is the implementation of the Australian Immunisation Register, which now enables pharmacists to vaccinate to a wider audience and at the same time keep the continuity of primary care intact.”

About the campaign

Meningitis Centre Australia’s campaign for 15 to 19 year olds will target Facebook and Instagram, Ms D’Cruz says, “because that’s where this age group is: they’re on their phones, their tablets”.

The campaign is also targeting parents of older teenagers, given most of this age group still live at home.

“And they’re at uni, or working, or at TAFE, and immunisation is just not a priority for them at all, so if we target the parents as well, they can either push their kids out the door to get the vaccine, or take them to get it for free.”

The campaign also seeks to underline the seriousness of meningococcal, and the importance of recognising and acting on symptoms.

“When we go into winter, meningococcal can be mistaken for a case of, ‘My son’s grumpy because he’s got the flu,’ and he takes a Panadol and goes to lie down. He may still feel the same the next day and take another Panadol.

“This kind of masking can be really misleading. When somebody has become sick people just say, ‘I had no idea he was this sick’.

“So we really need to make people more aware, and aware that this disease really can kill within 24 hours.”

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