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NT Babies to Receive New Vaccine against Four Strains of Deadly Meningococcal Disease

Territory babies will be immunised against four strains of the deadly meningococcal infection from next month, as the NT Government funds the rollout of a stronger free vaccine.

But parents will still have to pay if they want to protect their children against the B strain, which claimed the life of Darwin toddler Skylar Lawrence last month.

Skylar’s parents Sally and Ash Lawrence are lobbying the Federal Government to add the B strain vaccine to the free National Immunisation Program. Otherwise it costs about $500.

The current free vaccine, given at 12 months of age, protects babies against the C strain of the dangerous bacterial infection.

Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said from December a four-strain vaccine would be offered instead, covering the A, C, Y and W variants of the disease. This would be paid for by the NT Government until federal funding is allocated to deliver the four-strain vaccine nationwide.

That will likely not happen until mid next year.

It is already administered in Central Australian communities including Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine.

Ms Fyles said the W strain of the disease had been “increasing in frequency and severity over the past few years”.

In contrast, she said there were “very low” numbers of meningococcal B cases in the NT. State and territory health ministers met in Canberra last week to discuss the issue and receive a briefing from the nation’s Chief Medical Officer.

“When it comes to meningococcal B there is a significant body of work that needs to be done before the Federal Government can approve it for the national schedule,” Ms Fyles told the NT News.

“It’s quite a process to get an immunisation on the national vaccination register.

“I have been advised that the vaccination has been previously considered by the Commonwealth’s independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee … (but) it has not been approved for the National Immunisation Program at this stage.”

Symptoms of the infection can include fever, headache, neck stiffness, an aversion to bright lights, joint pain and a rash.

Babies may refuse food and drink and have a high-pitched cry.

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