6 things to know about immunisation in 2024

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Immunisation is a simple and effective way of protecting people from serious diseases. Not only does it help protect individuals, immunisation also protects the broader community by minimising the spread of disease.

To better protect the community against serious diseases, eligible Queenslanders can access a Meningococcal B vaccine and a flu vaccine for free in 2024.

There have also been to some changes to the immunisation program to increase access to important vaccines.

Here’s some information on what’s changing and what you need to know about Queensland’s immunisation program in 2024.

1. Meningococcal B vaccination

Commencing in the first quarter of 2024, free meningococcal B (MenB) vaccines will be available to eligible Queensland infants, children and adolescents.

Prior to 2024, the MenB vaccine was available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants under two years of ages and all people with specified medical risk factors under the National Immunisation Program.

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but severe infection that occurs when meningococcal bacteria enter the body through the nose or throat via respiratory droplets, such as sneezing and coughing.

Most people with meningococcal infection fully recover, but some people can develop long-term health complications including limb deformity, skin scarring, deafness and possible loss of brain function.

The following Queenslanders who have not yet started or completed an age-appropriate course of MenB vaccination will be eligible for the Queensland MenB Vaccination Program:

  • Infants aged 6 weeks to less than 12 months
  • Catch up vaccination for children aged over 12 months to less than 2 years
  • Adolescents aged 15 to 19 years (less than 20 years).

The Queensland MenB Vaccination Program will be delivered through Queensland Health registered vaccination service providers, including general practitioners, pharmacies, community vaccination clinics, child health and outreach clinics, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.

The program will also be delivered to Year 10 students through Queensland’s School Immunisation Program.

Immunisation against meningococcal disease strains A, C, W and Y continues to be available to eligible Queenslanders.

2. Shingles vaccination

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus causes a painful, blistering rash.

Shingles usually affects older people, and the risk of complications increases with age. Serious complications of shingles include pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness and swelling of the brain.

There have been recent changes to the shingles vaccine type with the two-dose shingles vaccine Shingrix replacing Zostavax on the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

Shingrix can be used in adults at a younger age and has better short and long-term efficacy than Zostavax.

The age group eligible for the Shingrix vaccine under the National Immunisation Program has also been expanded, changing from people aged 70 years and over, to people aged 65 years and over.

The Shingrix vaccine is also available free for:

  • First Nations people aged 50 years and over
  • Immunocompromised people aged 18 years and over with the following medical conditions: haematopoietic stem cell transplant, solid organ transplant, haematological malignancy, advanced or untreated HIV

3. COVID-19 Vaccination

COVID-19 is still circulating and prevalent with more than 136,000 cases recorded in Queensland in 2023 (as of December 17, 2023).

A Queensland Health staff member receives a COVID-19 vaccination.

Queenslanders are reminded to keep their COVID-19 vaccination status up to date, especially those who are most vulnerable:

  • All adults 65 years and over, and those aged 18 to 64 years with at risk medical conditions or disability with significant or complex health needs, are recommended to receive a 2023 COVID-19 vaccination dose if their last COVID-19 vaccine dose was six months ago or longer, regardless of the number of prior doses received
  • A 2023 dose may be considered for other adults aged 18 to 64 years, based on an individual risk-benefit assessment with a health care provider
  • A second 2023 COVID-19 vaccine dose is also recommended for adults aged 75 years and older if six months has passed since the previous dose
  • All Queenslanders are encouraged to discuss their COVID-19 vaccination status with their health care provider.

4. Influenza vaccination

The Free Flu Vaccination Program will continue in 2024. Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent the flu and its complications.

All Queensland residents from six months of age will be able to access the influenza vaccine for free ahead of the flu season. The program typically rolls out from April each year when the influenza vaccine becomes available.

People can receive a COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as their influenza vaccine.

5. HPV vaccination

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination changed from two doses to a single dose in 2023.

HPV is a common sexually transmissible infection that affects all genders, and most people will have it at some point in their lives.

HPV infection can cause warts, painless lumps or tenderness, itching and bleeding. Most people will clear the infection within 12 to 24 months.  However, in some cases the virus stays in the body and this can cause abnormal cells to develop.  These abnormal cells place people at risk of developing HPV associated cancers.

Cervical cancer is almost always caused by HPV, but HPV is also responsible for genital warts and the majority of anal, vaginal and mouth and throat cancers, and half of penile cancers.

Potentially harmful HPV infections can be prevented through vaccination, with the vaccine protecting against most of the cancer-causing HPV strains and the strains that cause genital warts.

If you are aged 25 to 74, have a cervix and have ever been sexually active, a Cervical Screening Test is recommended every five years—even if you have had the HPV vaccination.

HPV vaccination is available for Year 7 students through the School Immunisation Program. The optimal age for vaccination is 12-13 years, prior to the commencement of sexual activity.

People aged 25 years and under who missed their HPV vaccination at high school are also eligible for a free catch-up vaccine.

6. Vaccinations in community pharmacies

To increase access to primary healthcare services, participating community pharmacies can now administer a range of vaccines.

Participating approved Pharmacy Vaccination Service Providers will be able to administer a range of National Immunisation Program and Queensland funded vaccines from 1 January 2024, protecting Queenslanders from the following vaccine preventable diseases:

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Meningococcal ACWY
  • Pneumococcal
  • Herpes zoster (Shingles)

Influenza and Meningococcal B vaccines funded under these programs will also be available at participating pharmacies when supply arrives.

To find a pharmacy near you, visit www.healthdirect.gov.au You can contact your local pharmacy directly to find out if they administer vaccinations. Most pharmacies have the option of online bookings.