Meningococcal vaccinations missed due to pandemic fears: Parents urged to keep appointments

Picture: Getty Images
Picture: Getty Images 

​Close to half of Australian parents of children under four either cancelled or delayed scheduled meningococcal disease vaccine appointments last year due to the pandemic, a new survey has found.

Led by Ipsos, for healthcare company GSK, 484 Australian parents were surveyed as part of a worldwide study into the impacts of COVID-19 on childhood vaccination schedules. 

Just over half these parents (52 per cent) admitted to cancelling or delaying vaccination appointments due to lockdown regulations, while a further 40 per cent did so out of fear of catching the virus from a public place.

When it came to meningococcal, 47 per cent of parents admitted they had skipped or delayed this vaccine. This was for both the routine ACWY strain vaccine, and the optional B strain, which is currently only subsidised for eligible children in South Australia

Asked if they would likely catch up on missed or delayed appointments, more than a quarter (27 per cent), said no. While 13 per cent said they would not reschedule due to ongoing Covid concerns. 

The results follow two cases of the disease in South Australia reported last week. A 21-year-old woman was left in a critical condition after contracting the deadly disease, while a four-month-old baby was also admitted to hospital for treatment. A 29-year-old South Australian man also died from the disease earlier this year.  

Vaccines medical lead for GSK Australia Co Luu said it was worrying many parents had skipped these without plans to catch up. 

"...What is perhaps more concerning is that one in four parents are still unlikely to catch up on any missed or delayed appointments that happened during that time," Mr Luu said.

"It's important parents see their child's doctor at regular times to ensure they have relevant information about potential illnesses and diseases (including meningococcal disease) which their child may be at risk of."

Kirsten Austin lost her daughter Zoe to the disease in 2017. Picture: Supplied

Kirsten Austin lost her daughter Zoe to the disease in 2017. Picture: Supplied

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One mum who knows all too well how fast acting and devastating the disease can be is Kirsten Austin, who lost her daughter Zoe to the W strain in 2017. 

Zoe had been a fit, healthy 20-year-old when she began to feel unwell one morning with what the family assumed was a stomach bug. Zoe had no rash and Kirsten said they never suspected the disease. Her symptoms did not appear until about 8am that morning, but by 2am the next day she was gone.

Kirsten, who now has a voluntary role with the QLD arm of Meningococcal Australia, said she's now passionate about ensuring parents get the vaccine she can now only wish she'd been aware of. 

"Even though this September it will be four years since Zoe passed away, it never goes away and it seems so unfair that if we'd known there was a vaccine that could have prevented this and taken action, it would have stopped it from happening," she told Essential Kids.

"Even one life lost from a disease that has a vaccine to prevent it is beyond any words and a complete tragedy. Meningococcal is such an invasive and fast acting disease, it can be only a matter of hours between life and death," she warned.

​Kirsten also wants to see the B strain vaccine become partially or fully subsidised, saying the current out of pocket expense put many families off. 

"​The B vaccine is just as important, but it's extremely expensive. People also think the ACWY is all you need. While Zoe died of the W strain, there have been cases everywhere of B. Being vaccinated against all five strains is so important." 

"Sometimes I think people think because only five-10 per cent of people die from this, 'that would never happen to my child'. Unfortunately it can."

While she says the pandemic may caused delays in vaccinations, it also highlighted 'vaccinations do save lives'. But warned even if someone were to survive meningococcal, they could often be left with significant complications. 

"I have come across and spoken to lots of different families, including those who have lost their children and families where someone contracted it and managed to survive, but was left with terrible long term health issues. It's heartbreaking."

"For someone like me who has lost a child, there is no question about the importance of vaccinations."