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FAQ's for Students

Please see some FAQs below. Full FAQs can be downloaded as part of the toolkit.

Why is this program being launched in South Australia? What does it involve?

South Australia has had the highest rate of meningococcal disease in Australia since 2012, with more cases in adolescents than infants. It is vital we learn more about the disease and the benefits of vaccinating against Meningococcal B.

 

 At this point in time, a vaccine to immunise against Meningococcal B is not available for free through the National Immunisation Program, as more information is required to demonstrate it whether has a herd immunity effect (that immunisation prevents transmission to others) in addition to the individual protection it offers.

 

 

This study will examine if the Meningococcal B vaccine reduces the spread of meningococcal bacteria in teenagers through a herd immunity study. Only students enrolled in Years 10, 11 and 12 in 2017 and 2018 will be able to participate in the study.
        

The study will be rolled out across South Australia through a staged program running throughout 2017 and 2018. Participants will be involved in the study for 12 months. During that time, all participants will be vaccinated with Bexsero® (two doses given approximately eight weeks apart – and at least one month to less than three months) free of charge. In addition, two throat swabs will be collected from each participant across the 12 months of the study (2017-2018).

        
To receive the vaccines, participants must be at school on vaccination day. If they are not present, they may not be able to receive the vaccine.

 

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What is Meningococcal B?

Meningococcal disease is a life threatening illness caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis, often known as meningococcus.

 

There are six different types of meningococcus that cause infection in humans (Meningococcus A, B, C, W, X and Y), but most infections in Australia (80 per cent of cases) are caused by the Meningococcal B strain.

 

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How does it differ from other strains of Meningococcal disease?

The types of meningococcus causing disease may change over time (e.g. the Meningococcus C strain was previously a common type like the B strain). Today, cases of the C strain are not often seen. This is because the Meningococcal C vaccine was introduced in a funded program in 2003. The vaccine was very effective, because it has a herd immunity effect - it not only protects those who were immunised, but also stopped the bacteria being transmitted between people.

 

Although the overall number of cases of meningococcal disease has decreased since the Meningococcal C vaccine was introduced, the numbers have started to rise again. It is difficult to predict which strains of the meningococcus bacteria may increase or decrease over time, however in South Australia, we have consistently had around 25-30 cases reported each year due to the B strain.

 

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What symptoms should people look out for? If someone contracts Meningococcal B, what does it do to them?

People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. The symptoms from meningococcal disease may be very non-specific, with a general feeling of being unwell. Usually, a fever is present, with other possible symptoms such as headache, neck stiffness, muscle aches, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, convulsions and seizures, and a rash. An unusual symptom, which is highly suggestive of meningococcal disease, is the feeling of having cold feet and hands - usually in addition to the other symptoms.  

 

The typical rash of meningococcal infection usually starts as small pinpricks, but as the disease progresses, deep purple blotches that do not fade under pressure can appear. Not all children or adolescents get this rash, so you should not wait for this before seeking help.  

Anyone concerned that they or their child has symptoms suggestive of meningococcal disease should seek urgent medical attention.

 

 

Meningococcal septicaemia (infection of the blood) and meningitis (infection around the surface of the brain) can cause shock and death within hours of the onset of symptoms, or permanent disabilities such as brain injury and amputation of fingers, toes, arms or legs due to the lack of blood circulation to the limbs.

 

 

In Australia, 5-10 per cent of people with meningococcal disease die, despite rapid treatment.

 

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How can you prevent yourself or others from contracting it?

A Meningococcal B vaccine (Bexsero®) is available and recommended in Australia for infants and adolescents/young adults, or for anybody wanting to be immunised against the disease. The vaccine is safe and licensed and is already used in Europe, the United States and Australia. More than 10 million doses of the vaccine will have been administered worldwide by 2017.

 

In Australia, at this point in time, the vaccine can only be purchased through the private market, costing approximately $300 per adolescent/adult (two doses) and up to $500 for infants. It is not available on the free National Immunisation Program.

 

 

Some behaviours, such as smoking, intimate kissing with multiple partners, and recent or current respiratory infection may increase an individual’s risk of meningococcal infection.

 

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Aren’t people already immunised? I thought the vaccines given to babies/infants were to protect them against Meningococcal B.

Currently, the meningococcal vaccine available for free for babies/infants as part of the National Immunisation Program provides protection only against the C strain.

 

You can be immunised by your GP against Meningococcal B with the vaccine Bexsero®.  Infants from six weeks to five months of age require three doses given eight weeks apart and a booster vaccination at 12 months (four doses in total). Infants aged between six and 11 months of age require two doses given eight weeks apart and a booster at 12 months (three doses), and in infants and children one year of age and older, two doses are given approximately eight weeks apart. Adolescents and adults require two doses given approximately eight weeks apart.

 

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What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is when a significant portion of a population is immunised against a disease, preventing the transmission of that disease from one person to another and protecting those who are not immune.

 

Herd immunity protects people who cannot be administered vaccinations because they are too young or have a medical condition that prevents it.

 

 

If enough people in the community are immunised and protected from a disease, it can no longer spread.

 

 

The more people immunised, the more that will be protected.

 

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I’ve heard that this is a study. What does that mean? Is this vaccination new or experimental?

South Australia has had the highest rate of meningococcal disease in Australia since 2012, with more cases in adolescents than infants. It is vital we learn more about the disease and the benefits of vaccinating against Meningococcal B.

 

At this point in time, the licensed and recommended vaccine to immunise against Meningococcal B is not available for free through the National Immunisation Program, as more information is required to demonstrate it has a herd immunity effect (that immunisation prevents transmission to others) in addition to the individual protection it offers.

 

 

This study will examine if the licensed and recommended Meningococcal B vaccine reduces the spread of meningococcal bacteria in teenagers. Only students enrolled in Years 10, 11 and 12 in 2017 will be able to participate in the study.

 

 

All vaccines used in Australia are extensively tested for safety. Before a vaccine or any medication can be used in this country it must be licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which extensively assesses each vaccine for safety and effectiveness. This assessment is based on scientific evidence (clinical trials).

 

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When is the program taking place?

All South Australian school students enrolled in Years 10, 11 and 12 in 2017 will be eligible to participate in the study if their school signs up and their parents provide consent.

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What do I have to do to make sure I/my child can participate?

All South Australian school students enrolled in Years 10, 11 and 12 in 2017 will be eligible to participate in the study if their school agrees for their local council immunisation provider to provide the Meningococcal B vaccines to students and collect the throat swabs and if their parents provide consent.

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