No universal vaccine

A basic look at Meningococcal Disease Manifestations. Picture: US National Meningitis Association.

VACCINES can be used to prevent a person getting meningococcal disease, however, there is no “universal” vaccine that protects against all strains of the meningococcal bacteria.

Confirming this, the World Health Organization said Fiji must prioritise the use of the vaccine where it would be most effective.

“So in this case, the vaccine will protect against the C serogroup: both the currently circulating C strain and any future meningitis C strains as well. A well-conducted vaccination campaign reaching the majority of those aged 1-19 years of age should provide protection against meningitis C over the longer term (in other countries, the impact of such vaccination campaigns have lasted more than five years),” WHO said.

According to the organisation, 94 per cent of patients with meningitis C in 2018 have been people aged 19 years and below. Government is also working on a mass vaccination program for more than 300,000 Fijians aged 19 years and below for prevention against meningococcal.

“Experience from several European countries and Australia has shown that achieving high immunisation coverage among older children and teenagers has resulted in a rapid reduction in cases of meningitis C. For this reason, the Ministry of Health, in consultation with WHO and international experts, has decided to target children and adolescents aged 1 to 19 years,” WHO said.

“Not only will this protect the most vulnerable age group, but it will help to protect others through what is known as population or herd immunity.

“In some populations, around 10-20 per cent of people carry the meningitis bacteria without showing any illness or symptoms.”

The UN international public health body said population immunity worked by reducing the number of people who carried the disease without experiencing symptoms, reducing the risk that the bacteria would be passed on to those who have not been vaccinated, now and in future.

“Population immunity was a critical factor in the sudden reduction of cases in Australia and Europe.” The Health Ministry has recorded 11 deaths so far in Fiji from meningococcal disease.

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