Better protection against meningococcal and pneumococcal diseases

The National Immunisation Program (NIP) has been amended from 1 July 2020 to improve protection for those most at risk against the potentially fatal meningococcal disease.

For the first time, the Meningococcal B vaccine (Bexsero®) is being made available for free to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants under two years, who are almost four times as likely to contract this disease as non-Indigenous children.

Around 20,000 Indigenous children are expected to be vaccinated each year.

Meningococcal disease is rare but can have serious effects, even for survivors.

This and other changes to the NIP, based on expert medical advice, will target vaccines for Australians most at risk from meningococcal and pneumococcal diseases. The other changes include:

  • People aged 70 years and over are now eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine Prevenar 13® to ensure more targeted protection for the elderly.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be eligible for three pneumococcal vaccines, after they turn 50.
  • More people with medical risk conditions will have access to free pneumococcal, meningococcal ACWY and the Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) vaccines.

There is no scientific or medical doubt vaccinations save lives and protect lives, and are an essential part of modern health care.

The NIP schedule is regularly reviewed by the medical experts to ensure it provides the best protection for Australians against vaccine preventable diseases.

The 1 July changes to the schedule were recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, and other clinical experts.

Indigenous babies will now be eligible for the meningococcal B vaccine at two months, four months, and 12 months of age. A catch-up program will be available for Indigenous children aged under two years, until 30 June 2023.

To accommodate the new vaccine, the hepatitis A vaccination schedule for children in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia will be amended.

For pneumococcal disease, the NIP will now provide one dose of the Prevenar 13® vaccine to people aged 70 years and over.

Incidence of the disease increases sharply with age, while the vaccine becomes less effective over time. The changed schedule will ensure the best protection for people as they move into older age groups.

In line with medical advice, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults will be eligible for one dose of Prevenar 13® after they turn 50, then two doses of Pneumovax 23® to protect them for the rest of their lives.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in the NT, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia will now receive two doses of Pneumovax 23®, as well as four doses of Prevenar 13®.

People of all ages with certain medical conditions that increase their risk of pneumococcal disease can receive extra pneumococcal vaccines under the NIP. The list of risk conditions has been revised and simplified, to more easily identify eligible patients.

Information on the changes for consumers and health professionals is available on the Department of Health website at www.health.gov.au/immunisation.

The Australian Government strongly supports immunisation and invests more than $400 million each year in the NIP.

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