Pharmac considers funding meningococcal B vaccine to be part of childhood immunisations

Media release Medicines

Pharmac today has announced a consultation on widening access to the meningococcal B vaccine (branded as Bexsero), which would give thousands of young people and infants protection against meningococcal B disease. The proposal would allow for its inclusion in the childhood immunisation schedule.

“Following the budget increase announced in May 2022, we are working our way through our options for investment list,” says Pharmac’s chief medical officer Dr David Hughes. “We are pleased to be progressing this proposal for the meningococcal B vaccine that could bring a new vaccine onto the childhood immunisation schedule and better protect our children from infectious diseases.

Pharmac is seeking feedback on the proposal to fund the meningococcal B vaccine from 1 March 2023 for:

  • children up to 12 months of age, and a catch up programme for children from 13 to 59 months of age (inclusive) to 31 August 2025
  • people aged 13 to 25 years who are entering into or in their first year of close-living situations, and a catch up programme for people this age who are already living in close-living situations to 28 February 2024.

Meningococcal disease can lead to serious illnesses including meningitis (inflammation of your brain membranes) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). These illnesses can develop quickly over a few hours and can cause severe disability or even death.

“Over the past few years the number of meningococcal B cases being notified has been increasing and we want to acknowledge the concern from the public and advocacy groups including the Meningitis Foundation,” says Dr Hughes. “Meningococcal disease can progress very rapidly, but vaccination can provide protection for our children and young adults.”

“If this proposal is approved, we estimate that around 300,000 people would be eligible during the catch-up period, and around 60,000 new infants and young people each year following,” says Dr Hughes. “We are aware that Māori and Pacific peoples have higher infection rates than the total population, so this proposal is a step towards improved protection for these communities.”

Today Pharmac is also proposing to secure the ongoing listing of the shingles vaccine (branded as Shingrix). There are no proposed changes to eligibility criteria as part of this proposal, but Pharmac has shared recommendations on additional proposals from its clinical advisors.

“Our clinical advisors have considered who else would benefit from expanded access to the funded shingles vaccine, including:

  • people from 50 to 54 years of age
  • people over 65 years of age who have received Zostavax at least 5 years previously
  • Māori and Pacific peoples 60 years of age and over.

"We are also assessing and seeking further clinical advice on other groups that may benefit from Shingrix, including:

  • people who have immune systems with reduced function
  • people over 65 years of age who missed their zoster vaccination at 65 years of age while there was reduced access to healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • people over 65 years of age who are immunosuppressed and could not be vaccinated with the previously funded shingles vaccine (Zostavax) when they were 65 years of age.

“While we are not currently consulting on these groups, we want to let people know we are considering more evidence in this space,” says Dr Hughes. “Anyone interested can learn more about the assessment of these proposals, including links to the relevant clinical advice, on the Application Tracker(external link).”

This consultation has been sent to relevant health care professionals, patient groups and others who Pharmac thinks would be interested. It is available on the Pharmac website for anyone wanting to have their say.

“Consultation is a very important step in our process,” says Dr Hughes. “It’s how we check that the people who will get the most benefit from the vaccines they can access. If approved, we will also be working closely with our colleagues across the health sector as they plan for the implementation of these changes to the National Immunisation Schedule.”

Learn more

Current protection against meningococcal disease:

  • Bexsero(external link) is funded for people who are close contacts of a meningococcal case, or who are at high risk due to reduced immune function.
  • Menactra(external link) provides protection against meningococcal groups A, C, W and Y and is already funded for people who are at high risk due to reduced immune function or aged 13 to 25 years in or entering close living situations.

The close living situations mentioned in the proposed eligibility criteria include boarding school hostels, tertiary education halls of residence, military barracks, or prisons.