Tasmania should follow South Australia’s lead and fund free vaccinations for type B meningococcal disease, a national GP body says.
A second case of meningococcal disease was confirmed on Saturday, two days after the bacterial disease claimed the life of a 16-year-old girl on Thursday.
A 20-year-old man is being treated for a meningococcal infection at Royal Hobart Hospital, and is in a stable condition.
Authorities expect to know by the end of the week which strains of the infection are involved in both cases.
A nationwide immunisation program covers types W, A, C and Y for children aged one-year-old and onwards, with a catch-up program distributed through schools for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.
But type B is not included in the program.
The South Australian Government is the first state to offer free B vaccines to children aged between six weeks and one year of age.
Huon Valley GP and national president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Bastian Seidel has called for changes to the current program.
“Let’s have a look at how we can introduce a vaccination program for type B in exactly the same way South Australia is doing,” Dr Seidel told ABC Radio Hobart.
“We know that people are travelling and infections are going to spread, so it’s just a matter of time before subtype B is hitting Tasmania as well.
“We are currently missing out on type B [vaccination programs] and that’s certainly concerning, because we’re never quite sure what type of meningococcal disease people really have.
“We’ve got to make sure that we have vaccination programs in place that covers everything, and not just some subtypes.”
Labor calls for more affordable vaccines
State Labor health spokeswoman Sarah Lovell said Labor would encourage the Government to take any steps possible to make meningococcal vaccinations more accessible and more affordable for Tasmanians.
“Vaccination is the only way to protect against meningococcal, but at the moment we know that the vaccination is cost prohibitive for most Tasmanians,” she said.
Labor leader Bill Shorten, who was on the campaign trail in north-west Tasmania, said he believed meningococcal vaccinations should be subsidised.
Acting Health Minister Elise Archer said the State Government would take advice from the health department in relation to infectious diseases.
“It is a constant reminder of how vigilant we must be in relation to these diseases, and certainly around flu time, to not just dismiss symptoms as flu-like symptoms,” she said.
“If there’s any rapid change or any unusual part of the symptoms other than your basic cold, then please visit the public health website, contact your GP, and take appropriate action as quickly as possible.”
‘Vaccines need to be affordable’
What is meningococcal disease?
Type B vaccinations are available from GPs but currently cost $130 for each shot, with children needing two shots.
Dr Seidel said he was concerned about the cost of the vaccinations, and said the state needed to make them more affordable and accessible for Tasmanian children.
“We can’t just say, ‘If you can afford it you are covered, and if you can’t afford it, tough luck’,” he said.
“We need to do so much better here in Tasmania to make sure we are protecting the ones who are also financially vulnerable.
“There’s no need to panic, but we need to mindful and we need to make an effort in preventing these conditions.”