Calls for FREE Men B after Tassie baby contracts disease

A Tasmanian doctor wants either the State or Federal Government to fund a free meningococcal B vaccine after a 10-month-old contracted the disease in the state’s north.

The 10-month-old was diagnosed on Wednesday night and is currently in a stable condition in Launceston General Hospital.

It is the second case of the disease in Tasmania this year, and the first of the B strain.

The State Government introduced a free meningococcal immunisation program for people under 21 last year, after the death of Hobart teenager Sarah Beltz.

The program covered the ACWY vaccination, but did not fund the separate B vaccination.

The B vaccine is available privately through GPs.

It costs about $120 per dose, with up to four jabs sometimes needed.

South Australia became the first state to offer the vaccine for free in October last year and some are calling on Tasmania to follow.

GP John Saul said while the B-strain was not a common disease, increased access to the vaccine would simply save lives.

“State and Federal Government need to just stop arguing who pays for it, they’ve just got to come up with the money,” he said.

“Even though it affects only a small percentage of the population … it’s such a devastating disease if you survive, you’ve got a 25 per cent chance of loss of limbs, permanent disability, brain damage.”

While ACWY vaccine is now available nationwide through the national Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the B vaccine has yet to be approved by the independent committee that advises the Federal Government.

Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson said both levels of government were relying on the advice of medical experts.

“We’ll always do what we must do on the advice of the experts,” he said.

“The Hodgman Liberal Government has a track record of funding every initiative that’s been advised by our experts.

“The Federal Liberal Government has given us a commitment that as soon as it’s recommended for a nationally funded program, it will be.”

Mr Ferguson said his current advice is that the W strain, which Ms Beltz died of, remains the highest threat for the community.

Federal Labor MP Ross Hart, who is hoping to maintain his seat of Bass in the upcoming federal election, has called on his party to support the funding of a free meningococcal B vaccine.

Mr Hart said the vaccine urgently needed funding.

“One child falling ill because of this condition is one too many,” he said.

“I do think we need to be looking at these individual strains and providing public funding for them.”

Coroner Simon Cooper earlier called on the Tasmanian Government to offer free meningococcal B strain vaccines to people under 21 after Ms Beltz death.


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