Now we live in fear
DEVASTATED FAMILY CAN’T AFFORD J ABS
JUST short of her third birthday, Bernadette Giribaldi contracted potentially deadly meningococcal B.
The Castle Hill toddler lost both her legs below the knee, most of the fingers on her left hand and parts of her fingers on her right. She was also left with zero kidney function and needed dialysis.
Now, seven years on, her father Danilo is simply grateful for the smiling daughter he is still able to hug.
But he worries that her three brothers have not been vaccinated for the B strain because he can’t afford it.
Unlike the meningococcal C vaccine, which is on the National Immunisation Program, the B strain Bexsero vaccine has been knocked back for inclusion three times and the federal Government has failed to put it on the schedule.
As a result, it can cost parents up to $450 for a full course (children need two to three shots) and shortages are a constant problem.
“You need to do two lots of the B vaccine and now we haven’t vaccinated the other kids because it’s over $1000. It’s not great but this is why we have been advocating for it to be on the schedule,” Mr Giribaldi said.
At the moment drug company GSK prioritises supply of Bexsero to other countries, including the UK and Ireland, that have put the vaccine on their schedule.
Despite promises by the company to increase supply fivefold, shortages are expected to continue.
GSK gave an undertaking on Friday to stock 200,000 extra vaccines in pharmacies by the start of June — earlier than its previous estimate of the end of July. “I realise many parents have had difficulty finding stock of this vaccine for their kids, so it’s terrific that supplies are receiving a massive boost,” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
Last year in NSW there were 26 cases of both B strain and W strain.
This year there have been 10 cases of B strain and only two cases of W.
Two children have died of meningococcal B in the past seven months. Four states, including NSW, offer free vaccines to teenagers for four other meningococcal strains — but not the B strain.
The Pharmaceutical Bene- fits Advisory Committee found it would cost the government $400 million to vaccinate over four million children and adolescents “estimated to prevent 224 cases of invasive meningococcal disease” and “nine deaths due to meningococc a l B disease”. But Mr Giribaldi believes the whole-oflife costs to families should also be considered. “We are constantly going to and from hospital, she has a brain injury which affects her ability at school so she needs a teacher’s aide,” Mr Giribaldi said.
“We are still discovering the side effects seven years later. She had kidney failure so her teeth have not formed with proper enamel, then there are the prosthetic legs and rehabilitation which cost a bomb,” he said.
“She needs surgery next year because meningococcal has affected her growth plates so her hands and wrists are turning inward.
“She will need brace rods in and out of her arm for one year on one arm and another year the other arm, so that will take two years. It’s just ongoing with one thing after another,” he said.
University of Sydney immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy said he was currently researching the whole of life costs of the burden of meningococcal B.
“Much work should be done in this area. The UK estimated that the economic costs of the disease was three times what had previously been measures and that helped them determine the cost effectiveness of the vaccine,” Prof Booy said.
Meningococcal B survivor Bernadette Giribaldi, 10, with brothers Isaac, 7, Dominic, 5 and Jacob, 11. Picture: Richard Dobson