Young Victorians will be able to access a free meningococcal vaccine with protection against more strains after the family of Ballarat girl Emma-Kate McGrath urged the state and federal governments to act following her tragic death.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Friday announced the vaccine against A, C, W and Y strains of the disease would be added to the National Immunisation Program for infants.
Ms McGrath, nicknamed EK, contracted strain W and died suddenly last year in May, shocking the Ballarat community.
The 19-year-old’s family welcomed Friday’s announcement.
“The news that the federal government has added the ACWY vaccine to the National Immunisation Program is a huge win and a step towards protecting all Australians,” they said in a statement to The Courier.
“We know that Emma-Kate will be cheering as she would have wanted us to do everything we could to fight for the vaccination in order to save other lives and prevent people becoming seriously ill.”
Currently, children are vaccinated against meningococcal C for free at 12 months, with protection against strain B available at a cost.
The new vaccine would be rolled out ahead of the next peak season, expected to be in the second half of the year.
The Victorian government also announced on Friday the ACWY vaccine would be available for year 10 students until December 31.
It comes after a rise in meningococcal related deaths, with 28 in 2017, up from 11 deaths in 2016.
There were 382 meningococcal cases reported nationally last year.
Mr Hunt said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee would also consider the listing of the new vaccine for all teenagers next month.
"This is about saving lives, it's about protecting lives," he told reporters.
Meningococcal is a rare infection that occurs when bacteria from the throat or nose invades the body.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said there was an increased number of cases of the Y and W strains in the past few years.
"The W strain is the one that's caused most of the concern with cases increasing both last year and the previous year," he said.
"This is a great development and I know one that many people have been keenly awaiting."
Ms McGrath, a popular nursing and paramedicine student at Ballarat’s Australian Catholic University campus, was struck down by the disease on May 3.
She did not receive the ACWY vaccine last year as it was only rolled out in Ballarat schools after her death.
This year, the Victorian government said it would focus on a new group of young people moving into an age cohort who are more likely to spread the disease to others.
Year 10 students will be able to get the vaccine at school, at their GP or through their local council immunisation session.
“We are continuing to combat increasing cases of meningococcal by delivering a free vaccine to teens for another year,” Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said.
Coroner Peter White, who handed down findings into Ms McGrath’s death in January, had said young Victorians should receive the ACWY vaccine.
“Emma McGrath’s untimely death is a tragic loss for her family, friends and the Victorian community,” he said.
“It highlights the rapidity with which even otherwise healthy young people can succumb to the uncommon but potentially fatal meningococcal disease.”