What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is any invasive infection caused by meningococcal bacteria (Neisseria meningitidis). It is uncommon but very serious.
About 10 per cent of the population carry meningococcal bacteria in their throat without becoming unwell. These people are known as 'carriers', and they can pass the disease on to someone else.
Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person by close, prolonged contact. In a small number of people, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause invasive meningococcal disease. This can develop very quickly and causes death in about 5 to 10 per cent of cases.
Vaccination against meningococcal bacteria is the best protection against meningococcal disease.
Even if you have had meningococcal disease, you are still advised to be vaccinated against this serious disease. Having had the disease does not mean you will develop lifelong immunity.
There are 13 strains or serogroups of meningococcal bacteria. Meningococcal vaccines are available to protect against disease strains A, B, C, W and Y.
Meningococcal ACWY vaccination
In Victoria, vaccination against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y (with the ACWY vaccine) is available for free as part of the National Immunisation Program schedule for:
- children aged 12 months
- young people in Year 10 of secondary school.
Young people aged 15 to 19 years are more likely to spread the disease to others. One in five people in this age group carry the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Immunisation experts have advised that vaccinating this age group can prevent spread to other age groups and protect the wider community.
People with specified medical risk conditions can receive free meningococcal ACWY vaccine. This includes people with:
- a poorly functioning spleen or no spleen, including sickle cell disease or other haemoglobinopathies
- defects in, or a deficiency of, a complement component, including factor H, factor D or properdin deficiency
- current or future treatment with eculizumab (a monoclonal antibody directed against complement component C5).
Meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine comes as a four-in-one vaccine, and usually requires a single dose (this will depend on your age and medical history).
Meningococcal B vaccination
Meningococcal serogroup B vaccine is available free under the National Immunisation Program schedule for:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children aged 2 months (from 6 weeks), 4 months, 6 months (certain medical conditions) and 12 months
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who missed a routine meningococcal B vaccine can get a catch-up vaccination for free up to the age of 2. The catch-up program finishes on 30 June 2023.
- People of all ages with asplenia and hyposplenia, complement deficiency and those receiving treatment with eculizumab.
Other people who are strongly recommended to have meningococcal B vaccine but are not funded under the National Immunisation Program can pay for it if they want to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease.
High risk groups for meningococcal disease
Some people are at higher risk of getting meningococcal disease. The following high-risk groups (listed below) are recommended for meningococcal vaccine:
- all infants and young children, particularly those aged less than 2 years
- adolescents aged 15 to 19 years
- people who have close household contact with those who have meningococcal disease and who have not been immunised
- people who smoke (currently or in the immediate past) and are aged 15 to 24 years
- people who are travelling to places, such as sub-Saharan Africa, that have epidemics caused by serogroups A, C, W and Y
- people travelling to mass gatherings, such as pilgrims travelling to the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabian authorities require a valid certificate of vaccination to enter the country
- people who work in a laboratory who frequently handle meningococcal bacteria
- people living with HIV
- people who have had a haematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Meningococcal vaccines are not usually recommended for women who are pregnant, but they might be given if your doctor thinks your situation puts you at risk of the disease.
Speak to your immunisation provider about which vaccine is recommended for you.
Where can I access meningococcal vaccine?
Persons eligible for the free vaccine can visit their local council, general practitioner (GP) or pharmacy to receive the free vaccine.
If you are not eligible for the free vaccine but wish to reduce your risk of meningococcal disease, you can purchase the vaccine on prescription.
Ask your immunisation provider about any out-of-pocket expense when making your appointment.
Where to get help