Summary

  • Meningococcal disease is uncommon, but can become life-threatening very quickly.
  • Since May 2017 there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases of meningococcal C disease in Victoria, mostly in men who have sex with men.
  • In response, the Victorian Government has introduced a free, time-limited vaccine program for men who have sex with men.
  • The vaccine is available from 11 December 2017 until 30 June 2018.
  • The vaccine will be available through all GP clinics and registered immunisation providers in Victoria, including sexual health clinics.

Meningococcal C bacteria live naturally in the back of the nose and throat in about 10 per cent of the population. Meningococcal disease occurs when these bacteria get through the lining of the throat and enter a person’s bloodstream.

Although uncommon, meningococcal disease can become life-threatening very quickly. In fatal cases of meningococcal disease the average time from the first symptom until death is 24 to 48 hours. 

Since May 2017 there have been increasing numbers of confirmed cases of meningococcal C disease in Victoria, most of which have been reported to be in men who have sex with men.

In response, the Victorian Government has introduced a free, time-limited vaccine program for gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, who live in Victoria. 

The vaccine is available from 11 December 2017 until 30 June 2018. Men receiving the vaccine will be protected against the C strain of the disease, as well as three other strains (A, W and Y). You do not need to be a Medicare card holder to be eligible. 

Who should have the free meningococcal vaccine?

The free meningococcal C vaccine is recommended for:

  • gay and bisexual men (GBM)
  • men who have sex with men  (MSM)
  • HIV positive GBM and MSM (who may be at particular risk of contracting the disease). 

How can I protect others from the disease?

By being vaccinated, you can protect yourself and others around you by reducing the spread of the disease.

Where can I get the free vaccine?

The vaccine will be available through all registered immunisation providers in Victoria, including GP clinics, and through all sexual health clinics.

Note: patient information is confidential and not shared on any public register.

People not eligible for the free vaccine program are still able to get the meningococcal ACWY vaccine, however there will be a charge. Speak to your GP for more information. 

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal bacteria live in the back of the nose and throat of about 10 per cent of people without causing illness.

Meningococcal disease can result when a particular strain gets through the lining of the throat and enters a person’s bloodstream.

Symptoms include:

  • limb pain
  • sudden high fever
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • stiff neck or sore muscles, sometimes followed by a red or purple rash.

The bacteria can only survive outside the body for a few seconds and can only be passed from person to person by close and prolonged household or intimate contact, for example through intimate kissing or after contact at  heavily populated bars, clubs or parties.

Meningococcal disease can progress very quickly and can lead to death or permanent disability. Up to 10 per cent of infected people die, even if they are treated with the right antibiotics, and on average, two in 10 people will be left with a disability. 

The disease can be severe, and in this outbreak, all cases have required hospitalisation. 

Find more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of invasive meningococcal disease.

What strains of meningococcal disease can you be immunised against?

Meningococcal vaccines are available to protect against five strains of meningococcal disease known by the letters A, B, C, W and Y.

The free meningococcal ACWY vaccine for eligible men protects against four strains in one vaccine.

Children aged 12 months old are vaccinated for free against the C strain as part of the National Immunisation Program schedule. A vaccine against the B strain is available by prescription from a GP but is not usually free.

Anyone wishing to be immunised against any or all of the strains can discuss this with their GP. GPs can provide vaccine prescriptions and patients can purchase the prescribed vaccine/s.

What if I’ve previously had the meningococcal C vaccine?

The free meningococcal ACWY vaccine will safely boost your protection against the C strain if you received the vaccine aged 12 months, and will also protect against the A, W and Y strains.

Why is the vaccine free for gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men?

Gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men are at increased risk of meningococcal disease and are more likely to spread the disease to others. 

Why has the Victorian Government introduced this program?

The most common strain of meningococcal disease circulating in the community changes over time.

Between May and November 2017, across Melbourne, Victoria, there has been an increasing number of confirmed cases of meningococcal C infection in men who have sex with men. 

There have been previous clusters of meningococcal disease in men who have sex with men worldwide including in Berlin, Paris, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Although uncommon, meningococcal disease can become life-threatening very quickly.

Is the vaccine safe and effective?

Yes. Studies have shown that the effectiveness of the meningococcal ACWY vaccine is between 80 and 85 per cent. It does not contain any live bacteria and cannot cause meningococcal disease. 

Most side effects to the vaccine are minor and quickly disappear. Read about side effects of the meningococcal vaccine and their treatment.

Where can I get more information? 

Speak with your GP or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24.

 

More information

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