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Parents’ confusion about meningococcal strains and vaccines may leave Australian children and adolescents at risk

New research confirms that poor understanding of meningococcal disease and its different strains means the majority of Australian children may not be fully protected.1,2,3

As families around the country prepare for a new school year, a new awareness survey* regarding meningococcal disease reveals that almost 50 per cent of Australian parents are unaware that this rare, but potentially devastating and deadly disease, can be caused by multiple bacterial strains.1

Survey results indicate that 69 per cent of parents are unaware that different vaccinations protect against different meningococcal strains.1 79 per cent of parents were not aware that the routine vaccination schedule does not cover all strains of meningococcal disease.1

Confirming what many doctors and families affected by meningococcal disease already know, there are many Australian families who may incorrectly believe that their children and adolescents are fully protected.1

Parents were consistent in their responses regardless of where they lived, with mothers generally showing a greater level of awareness than fathers.1 It noted that parents in Sydney showed the lowest level of disease awareness while Tasmanians were more knowledgeable, possibly linked to increased incidence - with nine cases of meningococcal disease recorded in Tasmania since July 2018.1,4

Meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection of the blood and/or membranes that line the spinal cord and brain,is rare but potentially life-threatening.5 It can lead to death within 24 hours.Most people survive meningococcal disease but up to one in ten of those infected may die, whilst one in five infectedmay suffer serious long-term disabilities including brain damage, deafness, scarring or loss of limbs.2,5

Globally, there are thirteen strains of meningococcal bacteria with three strains mainly responsible for cases of meningococcal disease reported in Australia.2 While multiple vaccines are currently available, there is no single meningococcal vaccine in Australia which covers all those relevant.2,3

As a medical advisor for Meningococcal Australia, Professor Robert Booy, Senior Professorial Fellow, University of Sydney, explained that vaccination is the best way parents can help protect their families against this rare but potentially devastating disease. “There are meningococcal disease vaccines available to help protect against meningococcal disease on the National Immunisation Program, on state immunisation programs and via private prescription. As there are differences between programs state-to-state, it’s important parents don’t assume their children, including older teenagers, are protected against all strains of the disease,” said Professor Booy.

Eliza Ault-Connell, Director of Meningococcal Australia, 2018 Commonwealth Games para-athlete and meningococcal disease survivor, echoed Professor Booy’s response to the new survey.  

“Whilst rare, meningococcal disease is unpredictable and can progress rapidly, making it difficult to diagnose. Tragically, despite modern antibiotic treatment, between five and 10 per cent of people with the disease may die within a day or two of seeking treatment. For survivors like me, the long-term disabilities can be life changing,” she said.2,7

“There is lots of media attention given to this disease when a child is admitted to hospital, and more so in the tragic event of a childhood death, but there remains a significant lack of understanding of the various strains and available vaccines.1 It is understandable that parents are confused about how to help protect their children and adolescents.

“What is heartening from the research is that once parents are made aware of meningococcal disease and the options for protection, they are far more eager to discuss their options with their GP.1 With Australian children returning to school, and day care and after-school centres becoming busier as parents go back to work, now is the perfect time to do that” said Ms Ault-Connell.7

Both Professor Booy and Ms Ault-Connell urged Australian parents to discuss meningococcal disease with their local GP and visit for guidance.6,7

“Parents should have these important discussions to find out what options are available to help protect their families and to know all they can about meningococcal disease, so they are prepared to act quickly should they recognise the symptoms.

“We look forward to a future where no Australian family should be adversely affected by this preventable disease,” concluded Professor Booy. 



A total of 3,470 Australian adults were surveyed.  Of these, 1024 were taken as a general population sample.  Parents of children aged between 0 – 17 years, including parents in the general population survey, represented a sample size of 2,786. The survey was commissioned by GSK Australia and fieldwork took place between 10 and 24 September 2018.1  

Meningococcal disease vaccines available in Australia:

  • Vaccination against the C strain of meningococcal disease has been available on the federally-funded National Immunisation Program (NIP) since 2003.8
  • In 2017, the NIP replaced the MenC vaccine with the quadrivalent vaccine to protect against meningococcal strains A, C, W and Y at 12 months of age. 2,3
  • Meningococcal ACWY vaccines are currently available through various state and territory programs for adolescents, with a federal NIP to be introduced in April 2019.9,10
  • Vaccines to help protect against MenB, MenC and Men ACWY are available on private prescription.2,3

Signs of meningococcal disease:

  • Meningococcal disease can start with symptoms similar to a cold or flu (fever, runny nose, sore throat, feeling tired).2,3  This can make it hard to diagnose early. 2,3
  • Early signs and symptoms are often non-specific and flu-like. Classic clinical features of meningococcal disease often appear late or not at all.2,3
  • Common symptoms may include sudden high fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, or a reddish or purple skin rash.2,3

To find out more about meningococcal disease and all the vaccination options available to help protect against the common strains of meningococcal disease – speak to your GP.

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  1. Data on File  IPSOS. National Meningococcal Disease Awareness Campaign Survey, conducted on behalf of GSK. Australia, September 2018.
  2. National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance (NCIRS). Meningococcal vaccines for Australians | NCIRS Fact sheet: August 2018. (accessed 9 January 2019).
  3. Australian Government: Department of Health. Australian Immunisation Handbook. Last updated 8 June 2018. (accessed 9 January 2019).
  4. Tasmanian Government. Department of Health and Human Services. Free meningococcal ACWY vaccine for all young people in Tasmania (accessed 9 January 2019).
  5. World Health Organisation. Fact Sheet: Meningococcal meningitis. (accessed on accessed 9 January 2019).
  6. Data on File. Interview with Robert Booy (November 2018).
  7. Data on File. Interview with Eliza Ault-Connell. (November 2018).
  8. Archer, BN et al, on behalf of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) Meningococcal Working Party. Epidemiology of invasive meningococcal B disease in Australia, 1999e2015: priority populations for vaccination (accessed 9 January 2019).
  9. Australian Government: Department of Health. Meningococcal Disease: Information for the public (Accessed 15 January 2019).
  10. Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt. Media Release “$52 million to deliver free meningococcal vaccine to teenagers”. Issued: 25 September 2018 (Accessed 15 January 2019).