Meningococcal death sparks calls for vaccinations in the NT
A woman in her 30s has died from meningococcal disease, the Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control (NTCDC) has confirmed.
- The woman died less than 24 hours after arriving at hospital
- Since August, all NT children have been offered free vaccinations
- There was a significant outbreak of the disease in Central Australia in 2017
It is understood the woman died on January 1, less than 24 hours after she presented at Palmerston Hospital.
The NTCDC said doctors had not been able to determine which strain of meningococcal the woman was infected with, but the most common seen in the NT is the W strain.
“That’s a big message here,” NTCDC director Dr Vicki Krause said.
“There’s a free vaccine for people aged one to 19 and it doesn’t do any help if it’s on the shelves or in the refrigerator, it needs to be in people’s arms.”
The woman’s death comes just six months after another woman from a remote Top End community died from the disease.
“In 2018 we’ve had 10 cases but compared to three to five years ago, we’ve only seen one to four,” said Dr Krause.
Since August 2018, all children in the Northern Territory have been offered free vaccinations against all four strains of meningococcal.
“It is really important to know that there are vaccines out there for everyone — from age two months up to 100 [years], people can get a vaccine,” Dr Krause said.
Meningococcal mainly presents as septicaemia, blood poisoning or meningitis.
“This is a disease that it is hard to catch, and we want everyone to be aware of the disease, and present themselves early,” Dr Krause said.
The vaccine was previously available to anyone under the age of 19 in Alice Springs and remote areas but the program was expanded to include Darwin.
The vaccine is available through community health centres and GPs.
The NT Minister for Health, Natasha Fyles, said she had lobbied her federal counterparts to have the Meningococcal B vaccination made available on the National Immunisation Program, which provides free vaccines to eligible people.
“I have been advised that the vaccination has previously been considered by the Commonwealth’s independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee for the National Immunisation Program, but was not approved,” Ms Fyles said.
“The drug company involved is continuing to participate in a broader clinical research trial to develop new evidence in support of a future application for the Commonwealth’s National Immunisation Program.”
Australian Medical Association paediatric representative Paul Bauert believes Australia will continue to see meningococcal deaths until vaccinations for one of the most deadly strains are funded by the government.
He said South Australia has taken the lead by introducing the vaccination for children and adolescents in 2019.
“The concern for doctors and paediatricians is that one of the deadliest strains is the B strain and that is not being supplied by the government of the Northern Territory or Australia-wide,” he said.
“Unfortunately until that happens we are going to have rare cases of death and serious morbidity.”
In 2017, two-year-old Skylar Lawrence became sick on the way home from a family holiday in Katherine and died from the meningococcal B strain, leading her parents to advocate for government-funded vaccinations.
That year, Central Australia saw a significant meningococcal outbreak, with 26 cases in the region.
The outbreak mainly affected Aboriginal children living in Central Australia and the Barkly and Katherine regions.