Vaccination response to meningococcal outbreak at St John’s College Cawaci, Levuka

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOHMS) has been working closely with the Ministry of Education and World Health Organization (WHO) to address the recent outbreak of meningococcal disease at the St John’s College Cawaci in Levuka, Ovalau Island.

Meningococcal disease is a life threatening bacterial infection that usually causes inflammation on the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and/or blood poisoning (meningococcemia). Whilst the disease is not common, it is a very serious illness that can develop quickly and cause death.

In response to the outbreak, the MOHMS sent a vaccination team to Levuka to vaccinate all students and staff at the college with the meningococcal vaccine, Sanofi Pasteur Menactra. Vaccination is critical to preventing the spread of meningococcal disease as the vaccine builds a person’s immune system to fight against the bacteria.

The meningococcal vaccine was supplied by the WHO and provides protection against meningococcal serogroup A, C, Y, W135. Testing of suspected case samples in Australian laboratories, facilitated by WHO, confirmed that meningococcal serogroup C was responsible for this recent outbreak.

The vaccine was administered by a single injection in the upper arm. This vaccine can cause some side effects, such as low grade fever, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and swelling where the injection was given; however the risk of serious side effects is extremely low. As such a team of medical staff were assigned to monitor all students in the school following their vaccination and treat any complaints.

In addition to the vaccination program, the MOHMS will continue to provide important meningococcal health information to equip students and staff with necessary knowledge about the disease and increase monitoring of students to support early detection and rapid treatment of potential new cases.