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New Meningococcal Vaccine is coming soon

October 15th, 2010

I have some great news that probably wont make it to the headlines of the local papers!

I have just been to a meeting in Melbourne. A new vaccine for meningitis should be available in Australia in early November. This type of vaccine has been available in the USA for some years but is only now getting to Australia.

The vaccine is very well tested and gives long lasting protection from 4 of the 5 dangerous strains of Meningococcal disease. This new vaccine is better than the existing vaccine because it gives higher protection and lasts longer. Downside is a slightly sorer arm, and a bit more expensive.

It is recommended for persons 11-55 years of age (even in Australia), but especially if you will be travelling to highly meningococcal prone areas like Sub Saharan Africa.

This vaccine uses more advanced vaccine technology. (Its not just phone technology that is surging ahead).

Our immune system has, broadly speaking, two main ‘armies’ of ‘soldiers’ ( white blood cells) to fight infection: B white cells that make antibodies, and T white cells that are more like commandos and engage in hand to hand combat.

The old vaccine ( eg Menomune for those who want to inspect their vaccination books ) only got a response from the B cells. This newer technology activates our T cells; so we can mobilise our whole army for better protection. This vaccine also lasts longer, which means fewer injections – which is always a good move. Also the old vaccine had a weird problem where if you gave multiple boosters, it had a tendency to work less well. This new vaccine has solved that problem.

Meningococcal infection (aka Meningitis) is dreadfully dangerous, and can be fatal within 24 hours of feeling the first symptom. The disease can often be treated with antibiotics, but the scary thing is the first symptoms are indistinguishable from a viral illness. This makes it tricky to diagnose.

Meningococcal disease is more common in persons up to age 25. Even those who survive can be left with brain damage, or lose fingers, toes and more.

This new vaccine is great news for everyone over 11 years of age. Research is moving fast to make it available to younger ages, and be sure that it is effective and safe for our children. I’ll keep you posted.

Dr Deb

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