Motions: Meningococcal B Strain Vaccination

Wednesday May 30, 2018

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (11:18): I move:

That this house—

(a) recognises the high rates of South Australians affected by the meningococcal B strain;

(b) establish a committee to investigate the effectiveness of the meningococcal B strain vaccination as a state government-funded vaccination program; and

(c) calls on the state government to implement a vaccination program against the meningococcal B strain for all South Australians.

It is very pleasing to see bipartisan support for the previous motion tabled here today, and I am hopeful that this will continue into this motion because this motion is about saving lives. I find it unconscionable that meningococcal B is a preventable disease. There is a vaccine but cost and awareness are factors that need to be addressed by this house. Meningococcal B can strike with very little warning and the impact of contracting this disease can range from the loss of limbs, such as fingers and toes, through to sight and hearing problems and, in the most severe cases, the loss of life. Those who are most at risk are babies and children up to the age of five, followed by teenagers and young adults from 15 to 24 years; however, this disease does not discriminate and can strike at any age.

Meningococcal B is an acute bacterial infection that, if the symptoms are not recognised and acted on immediately, can cause death within hours. Imagine your cheeky and adorable baby playing happily and within hours you are in hospital with your precious baby struggling to survive. This was the terrifying reality of parents, Nathan Braddock and Emma Smith of Mount Gambier earlier this year. Their six-month-old son, Jordan Braddock, had a fever and his mother, Emma, gave him Panadol. Concerned that Jordan did not drink his morning bottle, Emma made the decision to take him to a local medical clinic. By the time she arrived at the clinic, a rash had broken out on his face and Emma was advised that she should immediately proceed to hospital. In Emma's words, 'Everything just happened so quickly.'

The Royal Flying Doctor Service with specialist paediatric MedSTAR staff and equipment were dispatched to Mount Gambier. Tragically, Jordan lost his life due to this insidious disease while the retrieval team was on its way to Mount Gambier, despite the best efforts of staff at the Mount Gambier hospital. Within two weeks, Mount Gambier had its second case of meningococcal B diagnosed this year with a 15-year-old teenager falling victim to this disease. SA Health and the department for education and child development worked together with the high school where the teenager attended, informing students and their families of the recent case of meningococcal and provided advice as to what precautions should be taken. Once again, the Mount Gambier community were alarmed that the disease would spread throughout the community and more residents would fall victim to it. Thankfully, to date, no further cases have been diagnosed.

So far in 2018, there have been at least six confirmed cases of meningococcal B disease in South Australia. At this time last year, there had been only one case of meningococcal B diagnosed. To give insight into the prevalence of this disease, in South Australia in 2004 there were 11 reported cases of meningococcal B, and this number has steadily been rising ever since; in 2013, there were 20 cases; in 2014, there were 32 cases; and in 2017, there were 36 cases. A number of other states within Australia have also seen a rise in the number of meningococcal cases diagnosed. Victoria had 26 cases in 2014, and this rose to 50 in 2016. Similarly, New South Wales had 35 cases in 2014, and this number rose to 43 in 2016.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, nausea or vomiting, drowsiness, dizziness, lack of energy, confusion and the distinctive rash which indicates bleeding into the skin. A rash may start with a few spots or blisters and then spread very quickly and develop into purple bruise-like blotches. If any of these symptoms are present and you have the slightest concern, presentation at the nearest medical clinic or hospital is highly recommended. Two vaccines have been launched to combat the meningococcal B strain, the first in Australia in March 2014, and the second in April 2018.

Neither of these vaccines are subsidised by the government. During the recent election, the Labor government made a pledge that vaccinations would be free for all children under the age of two. I must say that the previous Labor government has certainly led the way in this area. This was a saving of up to $500 per child. It was estimated that this election pledge would cost $24.5 million over four years. To some, that might seem a lot of money; however, when one of your children or someone in your community is inflicted with this disease, it is a small price to pay.

The state Liberal government are currently reviewing the meningococcal B vaccine, with health minister, Stephen Wade, noting that:

…while meningococcal disease is rare, B-strain is the most prevalent in the state and the Government is committed to developing a targeted, local response to have the maximum impact on the disease.

I would argue to the minister that there is already a policy out there that could be implemented. Minister Wade said:

There is significant community concern at the need to protect from meningococcal disease and we will act to lift protection in the most effective way…

Part of my motion is to encourage the state Liberal government to establish a committee, report back to the parliament on the cost of funding this vaccination and report on the effectiveness of the vaccine currently available. This committee would need to identify the age groups that are most at risk and how they will implement vaccination programs for those age groups. Again going to an initiative from the previous Labor government, South Australia led the nation with Australia's first meningococcal B study. A quote from the press release:

Sixty thousand eligible teenagers and young adults from across South Australia who are enrolled in Years 10, 11 and 12 in 2017 will be offered free of charge vaccinations against Meningococcal B as part of a state wide study into the impact of immunising large community groups against the disease.

The study—B Part of It—is being led by the University of Adelaide in partnership with SA Health and has been approved by the Women's and Children's Health Network Human Research Ethics Committee. Vaccinations [are] available to students in participating schools across South Australia during 2017 and 2018.

'South Australia has had the highest rate of meningococcal disease in Australia since 2012, with more cases [occurring every year]

I have highlighted that before.

…Associate Professor Helen Marshall, 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 [said] 'It is vital we learn more about the disease and the benefits of vaccinating against Meningococcal…

Whilst it is important that vaccination programs are implemented to protect our community, we are also beholden to ensure that the vaccine introduced will offer the required protection. That is where we need the committee to be doing that work.

I also encourage the government to undertake an education program for the community, as currently many families are not aware that there are a number of strains of meningococcal and that routine childhood vaccinations, as covered by the PBS, do not immunise against the meningococcal B strain. As I said right at the start, that awareness is very important to make sure that parents are aware—and certainly, as the local member, I was not aware—that the B strain is not covered under the national immunisation scheme.

We need to provide reassurance to the families that, as elected members of the Parliament of South Australia, we are concerned about the prevalence of meningococcal B in South Australia and that we are going to take strong action against it. This concern has been no more evident than in a petition, which I will table today, which carries 4,544 signatures from residents of Mount Gambier and districts. This was undertaken by Alli Schleef, who is the driving force behind the petition, and also the Justice for Jordan brand, seeking to have the meningococcal B vaccine funded for all South Australian children. It reads:

The Petition of the undersigned residents of Mount Gambier & Surrounding Districts, respectfully express their concern that the B strain of the Meningococcal disease is not covered by the National Immunisation Program.

Your Petitioners [the people of that area] therefore request that your Honourable House will call on the State Government to fund the B Strain vaccination of Meningococcal for South Australian children to prevent any further deaths from this preventable disease.

In a very short period of time—a matter of eight weeks, I believe—that petition gained 4,544 signatures. I will table it just before question time today. I would like to thank Alli for the time she has taken to deliver this petition to over 36 locations around Mount Gambier, encouraging residents to sign the petition; the organisations that house it in their businesses; the wonderful work that Alli has done to keep the awareness of this alive; and, of course, the people from my community who would like to see this heartache and preventable disease eradicated from South Australia. With that, I commend the motion to the house.