Vaccine to be free for 2-year-olds

TWEED parents of all newborn babies can breathe a sigh of relief following the Federal Government announcement that all children born after January 1, 2003 will receive the pneumococcal vaccine free of charge.

The vaccine, to be given at two, four and six months of age, will be part of the routine vaccination schedule given by immunisation providers.

Local GP paediatrician Dr Fergus Ring said it was very fortunate that the Government had decided to offer a free vaccination catch-up to all children born after January 1, 2003.

"Babies with pneumococcal infection can become critically ill with generalised illness, meningitis and pneumonia," Dr Ring said.

"Sadly the illness claims many young lives in Australia each year and many of those who survive meningitis are permanently disabled with intellectual impairment and deafness being common," he said.

"The pneumococcal bacteria also caused many cases of middle ear infection in children and the vaccine may play a part in decreasing the incidence of this very common distressing childhood ailment."

Dr Ring said parents of children aged two to five should see their local doctor to discuss the benefits of vaccination in this older age group for whom the vaccination is available on a private prescription.

He said the vaccine is safe, with most side effects being minor and transient, such as soreness at the injection site or fever.

Tweed Valley Division of General Practice Immunisation Project Manager Dr Doug Warne said infection with pneumococcal bacteria could produce a very serious illness in the young and the elderly which is why the government has also decided to fund a different pneumococcal vaccine for those over 65 years of age.

Dr Warne said he would encourage the elderly to see their general practitioner to ensure their vaccinations were up to date.

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