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South Australia introduces free meningococcal vaccines for kids, young adults

South Australia will become the first state in the country to introduce a vaccination program for the B-strain of the deadly meningococcal disease.

From October 1, children under four will be able to get the Meningococcal B vaccine for free, while from early next year students in Years 10 and 11 and young people aged 17-20 will also have access to the free program.

It follows a report from an expert group developed to find the best possible approach to combat the disease.

"Contrary to what we have seen nationally, instances of meningococcal B disease have not declined in South Australia over the past 18 years and it has predominantly affected children, adolescents and young adults," Health Minister Stephen Wade said.

"Meningococcal infection is a devastating disease that can cause death and for many survivors leads to permanent disability and other long-term effects.

"It currently costs parents up to $500 for a full vaccination course to immunise their children against meningococcal B – a cost which is out of reach for many."

The state's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paddy Phillips, believes the new plan will be the best way to protect those most at risk.
"We know that meningococcal B disease occurs more frequently in infants and children up to four years of age, and young adults aged between 15 to 20 years of age," Professor Phillips said.

"There have been 372 cases of meningococcal B disease in South Australia since 2000, which sadly includes 14 deaths, and of those cases more than 60 percent were in people aged under 21.

The expert working group found that the program should prevent about 12 cases of meningococcal B disease each year, including one death every two years.

It’s also expected to reduce the amount of disability experienced by those who survive the disease.

The state government hasn't revealed the total cost of the program as commercial negotiations are ongoing, but it concedes it will be significantly more than the $25 million pledged by the previous Labor Government.

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