Most patients and parents are aware of the vaccinations available on the Government funded schedule – all Australian children are eligible to receive these at no cost. Diseases such as hepatitis B, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps and rubella are just some of the ones we vaccinate against. But there are now many other additional vaccinations available to reduce your child’s risk of illness. The mentioned below are the ones I most commonly discuss in general practice.
Meningococcal B vaccination
On the Australian schedule all vaccinated children now receive a Meningococcal A,C,Y,W vaccine at 12 months (they receive this at the same time as the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine). Meningococcal is a potentially fatal disease and there are many strains; children under 5 years old are most at risk, as well as those aged 15 to 24. Being vaccinated against the A,C,Y,W strains does NOT protect you from the other strains of the bacteria (such as Meningococcal B) and this is where I find most patients get confused. Imagine a bug with 5 different variations – each slightly unique, a different colour or shape. I can vaccinate you against the blue circular variation, but you won’t be protected against the green square or the yellow triangle types. That’s where each vaccination is unique and each covers a different strain.
The number of doses of the Meningococcal B vaccine required depends on the age at which you start vaccinating your child and the vaccine that is used. Each dose currently costs approximately 130 dollars and children require either 2 or 3 doses according to the age they initially vaccinated at. Some states are currently funding the meningococcal B vaccination for infants, however, many states are still not funding it (fingers crossed this may change down the track!).
It is worth knowing that the 4 most common strains causing issues in Australia are B, C, W and Y.
Most state governments fund the influenza vaccine for all children from 6 months to 5 years of age during influenza season. If your child is older than 5 and has a chronic medical condition such as asthma or diabetes then they will still receive a funded vaccine. If they don’t fall into this group however, you will need to pay for a private vaccine (usually around 15 to 20 dollars). The first year you vaccinate your child they require 2 vaccines (IF under 9 years old) at least 4 weeks apart to mount an adequate immune response. Influenza can be lethal due to its complications such as pneumonia. The flu vaccine tends to be released in April/May each year and the ideal time to vaccinate is end of May to ensure your child is covered for the peak flu season in July/August – vaccine effectiveness does tend to wane after 3-4 months.
Varicella (AKA Chickenpox) – A second dose
Children receive a single dose of varicella vaccination at 18 months (it is combined with the second dose of measles, mumps and rubella). The single dose of varicella vaccination is 87% effective at preventing chicken pox, however, if you add a second dose of the vaccine (which you need to pay for privately) then the vaccine effectiveness is 97%.
Chicken pox can have serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling in the brain) and so prevention of the disease is strongly recommended now – as opposed to the chicken pox parties that were all the rage in the 80s and 90s! Many parents now choose to pay for the second dose of the vaccine which can be given either prior to or after the dose at 18 months.
I hope this helps answer your questions and allows you as a family to decide which additional vaccinations you may want to consider.