Call Your Closest Clinic, Australia-Wide
Call Your Closest Clinic, Australia-Wide

Meningococcal B vaccine

Dr Julie Burke - Yeppoon

BEXSERO , the first broadly effective Meningococcal B vaccine is indicated for immunisation of infants (from 2 months of age), toddlers, children, adolescents and adults against Meningococcal serogroup B (MenB) disease.  It’s  availability to travellers will be particularly useful for infants and exchange students, students studying overseas especially in  residential colleges, people without a functioning spleen, or those with other conditions that impair their immunity.

Meningococcal disease is a devastating life threatening illness that  can kill within 24 hours.  10% die even with treatment, and of those that survive 20% have permanent disabilities like limb loss, brain damage, blindness, deafness and other organ damage.  There are five “serogroups” of Neisseria meningitis (A,B,C W-125, and Y).   Vaccines for all but MenB have been available to travellers until now.  It is not surprising therefore that the majority of meningococcal disease in developed countries is caused by MenB ; 96% in the UK; 86% in France; 97% in Australia;81% in Canada; 85% in Germany and 56% in Italy. The rate varies from year to year and place to place: the 2012 Australian Government report showed 83% were group B.

Infants are 18 times more likely than adults to contract the disease; teens from 15 to 19 are 4 times more likely.  It is estimated that 76% of MenB stains in Australia will be covered by BEXSERO; but it  is not expected to provide protection against all circulating meningococcal group strains here and overseas.

The development of MenB vaccine has been particularly challenging for the company  Novartis; with 40  years of pioneering research requiring a novel scientific approach with decoding of the genetic makeup of MenB in order to manufacture the vaccine. It is now approved for usage in Australia, Canada, and United Europe but not in the USA.  This delay in approval in the US lead to controversy late 2013 when the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) experienced an outbreak of MenB; the 2nd outbreak in a  Southern California  University in 2013.  While both campuses ultimately received the vaccine through a US special access pathway, there was a delay between the outbreaks being identified and immunisation commencing.   If the vaccine had already been approved, lives may have been saved.  Many complaints from  UCSB students and their families made headlines in Californian papers at the time; with parents even sending their university UCSB  student children to London during the school’s winter break just to acquire the vaccine!!.


Prepared by Dr Julie Burke

TMA Yeppoon