There is renewed debate over whether the expensive meningococcal B vaccine should be available free to children, after the death of a toddler from a suspected case of the disease in South Australia.
The UK made the vaccine, Bexsero, free as part of its routine childhood immunisation schedule last year, but in Australia a course can cost families up to $700 when GP fees are included.
That is in contrast to the meningococcal C vaccine, which is free to children under the National Immunisation Program.
Eliza Ault-Connell, the director of Meningococcal Australia, said B was now the most common strain of meningococcal and Bexsero should be subsidised.
“As you can imagine for some larger families when they’re vaccinating multiple children, this actually comes into being quite a costly exercise,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be the case that families have to consider this as an expense, when it should be accessible for all that choose to vaccinate.”
Initially authorities in the UK found it would not be cost effective to subsidise Bexsero under any circumstances, but it was listed after a concerted community campaign.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has rejected applications to list Bexsero on three occasions.
Professor Jim Buttery, of the Monash Children’s Hospital and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, sat on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee the first two times the vaccine was considered.
He said subsidising Bexsero would cost the federal budget hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Of the considerations that have been done to this point, it hasn’t appeared to be a costly investment for the Australian community,” he said.
“It’s a horrible disease, but it’s a very rare disease.”
Manufacturer prioritises supplies to countries with programs
Professor Buttery said policymakers still want more information about Bexsero.
“We will have better information as information from the UK comes out, and what that will certainly do is give us a much better idea of how well the vaccine works and so how many cases it may be able to prevent,” he said.
“As well as, obviously, better information around safety.
“That will enable other countries like Australia to make far better decisions, and hopefully make the vaccine available some point in the future.”
Stocks of Bexero in Australia are low as the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), prioritises supply to countries which have national vaccine programs like the UK.
GSK said it would have more on the Australian market early next year.
Professor Peter McIntyre, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research, said while B was the most common form of meningococcal disease, it was declining.
“It’s good news to say that for whatever combination of reasons, possibly related to how well Australia’s doing reducing smoking rates which is a factor in meningococcal disease, we’re seeing about half as much meningococcal disease, including B, as we were seeing 10 years ago,” he said.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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