Study targets deadly Meningococcal B

By Nick Carne

The new school year will see the start of a new campaign in South Australia against the potentially deadly disease Meningococcal B.

A free vaccine will be offered to 60,000 students in Years 10, 11 and 12 as part of research designed to assess the effectiveness of widespread immunisation. The B Part of It study will be rolled out over the next two years, and all schools can get involved.

It is the first research of its kind in Australia, driven in part by the fact that South Australia has had the highest rate of meningococcal disease in the nation over the past four years. Nearly 90% of these cases are linked to the B strain – with up to 30 reported each year – and more adolescents than infants are affected.

The study leader, Associate Professor Helen Marshall, says it is vital we learn more about the benefits of vaccination.

“A vaccine is not available for free through the National Immunisation Program because more information is required to demonstrate whether, in addition to the individual protection it offers, immunisation prevents transmission to others,” she said. “This study will examine if the Meningococcal B vaccine reduces the spread of meningococcal bacteria in teenagers through what is known as herd immunity.”

In simple terms, herd immunity occurs when enough people are immunised against a disease to prevent its transmission from one person to another, thus protecting those who cannot be vaccinated themselves because they are too young or have a medical condition that prevents it.

Assoc Prof Marshall is Director of the Vaccinology and Immunology Research Trials Unit at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, which is coordinating the study. SA Health also is a partner, and Health Minister Jack Snelling is a strong supporter.

“Ultimately, the State Government would like to see as many Year 10, 11 and 12 students as possible provided with access to this vaccine. I urge all principals from all South Australian schools, both public and private, to take part,” he said.

Further information can be found on the B Part of It website.