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Free meningococcal B vaccine program starts in SA

Free meningococcal B vaccine program starts in SA - Featured Image

South Australian babies and children will be the first in the nation to receive free meningococcal B vaccines.

A vaccine could have saved 18-year-old Jack Klemich from the meningococcal B disease that suddenly took his life nine years ago.

For his dad, Oren Klemich, the South Australian government’s new free vaccination program – an Australian first – is “$31 million brilliantly spent”.

“This is saving lives and this is going to save a lot of heartache,” he said on Monday – the first day babies and children under four years old had access the free immunisations.

The program will save parents up to $500 per child and is expected to prevent an average of 12 cases of meningococcal B each year.

A program for year 10 students will begin in February 2019, along with an adolescent and young adult catch-up program.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said there has been 382 cases of the disease in South Australia since 2000, including 14 deaths – 70 per cent of deaths in people aged under 21.

He said the program has been designed to target the age groups deemed at highest risk of contracting the disease.

“The program is based on expert advice which recommends that we target infants, children and young adults,” he said.

“There’s a very high awareness of meningococcal B in the South Australian community, so we’re hoping that will drive a very high take-up rate.”

Mr Wade said the vaccines were being distributed across the state and there were no concerns about shortages.

“We’ll be making sure that supplies keep up with demand, because it’s very important we get this program in place and provide maximum protection for South Australian families,” he said.

Mr Klemich says the program will save lives and spare other families the pain of losing a child to the disease.

“We wish this vaccine had been around then,” he said.

“Our lives would be very different, as would, of course, his. We miss him.”

Vaccines for children aged between six weeks and under four years are available through GPs, local government immunisation clinics, Aboriginal health services, Child and Family Health Services and Country Health SA.