Please see below my recent email to Professor Andrew Wilson, Chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, re the current aggressive lobbying via the media for meningococcal B vaccination to be added to the taxpayer-funded schedule.
TRANSCRIPT – Experts concerned Australia’s vaccine program lagging behindIntroduction: Australia is responsible for one of the world’s most advanced systems for vaccine funding that’s led to one of the highest immunisation rates in the world. But health experts are now warning that we’ve begun to lag behind other developed countries, and they say it’s stopping Australians of all ages from receiving potentially life-saving injections, as Alison Branley reports.Alison Branley: 28 year old Juttima Chinnasri went home sick from work in October last year. By the next morning her face was covered in a purple rash.Juttima Chinnasri: It wasn’t normal, like, it’s serious.Alison Branley: She ended up spending a week on life support. When she woke, her lower legs and fingers were black and doctors told her they’d need to be amputated.Juttima Chinnasri: At that point it was just like it’s just hopeless.Alison Branley: Juttima had meningococcal B strain, the most common strain in Australia. There’s been a meningococcal B vaccine available since 2014, but it still hasn’t been funded under Australia’s National Immunisation Program. University of Melbourne population health expert Professor Terry Nolan says it costs up to $150 for each injection.Terry Nolan: For an infant it’s a three dose course, so it’s a big whack, it’s a lot of money. That particular vaccine is funded in other countries.Alison Branley: Another vaccine still not funded is Shingrix, which immunises the elderly against shingles, a painful condition that turns up only in people who had chickenpox as children. University of Sydney immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy says because Shingrix isn’t a live virus vaccine, it’s better for people with weakened immune systems. But despite this, it costs sick patients about a hundred dollars for a vaccination.Robert Booy: Shingles can lead to very severe disease and depression. People who are so severely affected by pain in their face, it can be awful.Alison Branley: Experts say there’s flaws in the way the government and its advisory committee, which decides which vaccines to fund, calculates cost versus benefit. Professor Nolan says these weaknesses have led to significant delays getting funding for a whooping cough vaccine for pregnant women, the flu vaccine for children under five, and the vaccine to protect against meningococcal types a, c, y and w. The vaccine experts will discuss possible changes at a symposium today in Melbourne. The event is being sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Shingrix and meningococcal vaccines. But Professors Nolan and Booy have independently backed suggestions for a government rethink. Professor Booy says the current system could impact the ability to quickly fund other vaccines in the future.Robert Booy: We’re not valuing the impact of vaccination for the general population in saving lives and in preventing disability. We’re putting a lower value on vaccines than we are on drugs, like cancer drugs. So it’s not a level playing field. The social impact of immunisation can be really substantial. Preventing transmission within families, within the community, can keep people at work, can substantially benefit the economy and can keep families well.Conclusion: That’s vaccine expert Professor Robert Booy, speaking to Alison Branley.