The Tasmanian Government is extending the free vaccination program against meningococcal disease – and pharmacists will be able to vaccinate some children
Michael Ferguson, Minister for Health, announced that meningococcal vaccines will be free for any Tasmanian aged between six weeks and 20 years.
The announcement follows the fifth confirmed case of meningococcal disease in the Hobart area.
“Testing indicates four people have contracted the W strain of the disease, including one person who died,” the Minister says.
“There has been one confirmed case of meningococcal B: a 20-year-old man who has been released from hospital.”
The six weeks to 20 years cohort has been identified as the group at greatest risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
The first stage of the extended vaccination program will focus on the area where a number of meningococcal disease cases has occurred – Hobart’s northern suburbs – and will then be expanded across the state in the following weeks.
The broader program will see eligible Tasmanians receive a free meningococcal vaccine from either a general practitioner, a pharmacist (for children aged 10 and over), special public clinics, and some high schools. The vaccine will cover the meningococcal strains A, C, W and Y.
The Tasmanian branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said it fully supports the move.
It says that community pharmacists in the state “stand ready” to help fight meningococcal disease by administering the vaccine.
It said it supported the Tasmanian Government’s swift action to increase uptake of vaccination against the disease, given the current “disturbing” upsurge in cases in Tasmania.
Trained pharmacists vaccinating children aged 10 and over is an appropriate response, it says.
Until now, pharmacists trained to administer vaccinations in Tasmania have been restricted to influenza vaccines. Over the past few years, pharmacists in other Australian States and Territories have been authorised to administer a wider range of vaccinations to adults, including whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations.
“It is increasingly well-recognised that pharmacist-administered vaccination has the potential to ensure a higher uptake of immunisation within the broader community, resulting in better public health outcomes,” says Guild Branch Vice President Madeleine Bowerman.
“This step in relation to meningococcal vaccination is a safe and sensible use of the medicine expertise and high accessibility of community pharmacies across the State.”
Michael Ferguson highlighted the symptoms of meningococcal disease and encouraged Tasmanians to be vigilant.
“Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious condition. Typically in Tasmania, there are five to six cases a year. Last year, there were 16 confirmed cases,” he said.
“Meningococcal bacteria are spread through secretions of the nose and throat, and older teenagers are particularly at risk of carrying and transmitting the bacteria to others.
“It remains important for the public to be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease such as fever, severe headache, severe muscle pain, and quickly becoming unusually unwell. Late in the illness there can be a rash. Infants can be lethargic, floppy and feed poorly.
“Anyone who is concerned that they may be showing symptoms of meningococcal disease should seek emergency medical care.”
The announcement follows reports by media including the ABC covering a surge in demand for the vaccinations in the island state.
New Town pharmacist Dr Jon Mathers told the ABC that like other pharmacies, he had not been able to secure a supply of the vaccine for children aged under 12 months.
“The company has said we’re not expecting a supply in the next few months,” he told reporter Peta Carlyon.
The PSA also welcomed the move.
“The expanded program will help bring Tasmania in line with other states and territories, where pharmacists can already administer vaccines for a wide range of diseases including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis,” says national president Dr Shane Jackson.
“Pharmacists have greatly boosted our nation’s herd immunity over the last three years by administering flu vaccines to tens of thousands of Australians, many of whom had never been vaccinated before.
“PSA has advocated strongly for the role of pharmacists as authorised immunisers, and this is another step forward in reducing the impact of vaccine-preventable disease in Australia.”