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Public Health Hotline - Tasmania 1800 671 738

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a rare but very serious infection that can be fatal.

People with meningococcal disease can go from feeling well to extremely unwell very quickly.

Symptoms include fever, severe aches and pains, headache, drowsiness and confusion. Infants can be distressed, limp, pale and feed poorly.

If you (or your child) have seen a doctor but you get worse, go back to your doctor or emergency department. Don’t wait.

Are there different strains of meningococcal disease?

There is one kind of bacteria that causes meningococcal disease, however the bacteria can be divided into different strains. These strains are named with different letters of the alphabet.

The most common strains of meningococcal disease in Tasmania are A, C, W, Y and B.

Understanding that there are different strains of meningococcal disease is important because different vaccines only provide protection for specific strains. For example, the meningococcal ACWY (MenACWY) vaccine only protects against the strains A, C, W and Y. The meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine only protects against the strain B.

How common is meningococcal disease?

Tasmania typically has about six cases of meningococcal disease a year.

In 2018 there were no meningococcal disease cases in the first six months. There were eleven cases between 1 July and 31 December 2018 across the state.

Five of the eleven cases were meningococcal W. Three of the W cases were from the Hobart suburbs of New Town, Moonah and Glenorchy. There were three cases of meningococcal B (one case in the South, one case in the North and one case in the North-West). There were two cases of meningococcal Y and one case could not be typed.

Why did the state-funded meningococcal immunisation program focus on the W strain?

The current meningococcal W strain is considered ‘severe’ because it can spread more quickly in the community and has a higher mortality rate than many other strains. The first meningococcal disease case in Tasmania due the current ‘severe’ meningococcal W strain occurred in 2015. Since then the W strain has caused more than half of all meningococcal cases, and the number of cases due to the W strain has increased each year.

How can I stay safe?

The best protection is immunisation. This vaccine will protect immunised Tasmanians against meningococcal A, C, W and Y strains for the next four or so years.

Who is eligible for a free MenACWY vaccine?

After delivering more than 96,000 vaccinations in the past 18 months, the state-funded meningococcal ACWY immunisation program will this week begin to transition into the National Immunisation Program.

The number of vaccines that have already been delivered is extremely pleasing, with almost three-quarters of the entire cohort targeted for immunisation covered.

  1. Tasmanians born after 1 August 1997, and at least 6 weeks old

    We are continuing to offer free MenACWY vaccine to Tasmanians born after 1 August 1997, and at least 6 weeks old while vaccine stock lasts. You can get the free MenACWY vaccine from:

    • your GP
    • some council-run clinics

  2. Tasmanians at twelve months of age under the National Immunisation Program

    All Tasmanian children aged 12 months will receive a meningococcal ACWY vaccine through the routine immunisation program. You can get the free MenACWY vaccine from:

    • your GP
    • some council-run clinics

  3. Tasmanians in Year 10 and 15 to 19 year olds under the National Immunisation Program

From April 2019, through the school-based immunisation program, Tasmanian adolescents will be offered the MenACWY vaccine in year 10 with a catch-up program provided for those aged 15 to 19 years.

Where you can get the free MenACWY vaccine from:

  • year 10 students will be offered the vaccine through school
  • adolescents aged 15 to 19 years will be able to receive the vaccine through GPs and some council-run clinics

My teenager has already had the MenACWY vaccine. Do they need a booster?

A single dose of meningococcal ACWY vaccine is very effective in providing protection against the meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y.

Eligible teenagers who have previously received a MenACWY vaccine can receive a dose of funded MenACWY vaccine through the national immunisation program, even if the previous dose was within the past five years. There should be at least an eight week gap between doses. Repeat vaccination carries minimal risk of adverse reactions.

I might be pregnant. Should I have the vaccine?

No. If you think you might be pregnant you should not receive the MenACWY vaccine as part of this program. Please discuss this with your doctor.

Why is the free vaccine limited to this age group?

Infants, children and young people are at higher risk of catching meningococcal disease.

Teenagers are more likely to carry meningococcal bacteria in their throat or nose and spread the bacteria to others. Immunising this group of Tasmanians will protect them and help reduce the spread of the disease in the general population.

How can I find out if my child has already received the meningococcal ACWY vaccine?

The fastest way to access your child’s immunisation history statement is through your Medicare online account through myGov.

Alternatively, you can get your child’s immunisation history statement by:

  • going to a Medicare service centre, or
  • calling the Australian Immunisation Register enquiries line on 1800 653 809 (8 am-5 pm, Monday to Friday) and request a copy to be mailed to you.

How many doses do you need?

Most people only need one dose.

Infants under 12 months need two or three doses (depending on their age) of the Men W vaccine, over a period of time.

Children with impaired immunity need an extra dose of the vaccine.

Ask your vaccine provider (doctor, nurse or pharmacist).

Will there continue to be more cases of meningococcal disease?

The immunisation programs against Meningococcal ACWY aim to reduce the number of meningococcal disease cases in Tasmania. We may still see some cases of meningococcal disease in Tasmania for the following reasons:

  • The vaccine reduces the number of people who are carrying the meningococcal bacterium and reduces its spread other people. It will take time for the vaccination program to have its full effect on the community.
  • While it can occur at any time, meningococcal disease is more common in winter and spring.
  • There are other (less common) strains of meningococcal bacteria that cannot be prevented by a vaccine. The vaccination program will not stop these cases from occurring.

Why isn’t there a free vaccine for the meningococcal B strain?

For now, the most important thing is to protect people against the W strain of meningococcal disease. The W strain has caused five recent cases in Tasmania and more than half of all cases since 2015.

If you would like to protect yourself or your family from meningococcal B, you can talk to your doctor about meningococcal B immunisation. MenB vaccine is available on private prescription at a cost.

I’ve already paid for a meningococcal ACWY vaccine. Can I get a refund?

No. Funding is not available for reimbursement.

Is immunisation compulsory?

You can choose not to get immunised, but we recommend every Tasmanian resident born after 1 August 1997 and at least 6-weeks-old gets immunised to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of meningococcal disease within our community.

Meningococcal disease is serious. Immunisation is the best protection.

Other than age, are there risk factors for catching meningococcal disease?

You can choose not to get immunised, but we recommend every Tasmanian resident born after 1 August 1997 and at least 6-weeks-old gets immunised to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of meningococcal disease within our community.

Meningococcal disease is serious. Immunisation is the best protection.

What should I do if I think I or someone I care for has meningococcal disease?

Seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

Call your GP, HealthDirect (available 24 hours, phone 1800 022 222) or go to an Emergency Department

Where can I find more information about meningococcal disease and immunisation?

Meningococcal Disease:

Meningococcal Vaccines:

Vaccination in general:

Questions about vaccination

The science of immunisation