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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 296

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:27): My question is to Senator Nash, the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Every year dozens of young Australians die or are permanently disabled from meningococcal disease. The Bexsero vaccine against the major strain, meningococcal B, is available privately but the government refuses to list it on the national immunisation program, following advice from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. Given the UK and Ireland now offer the vaccine as part of a routine childhood immunisation and the US offers it for free to poorer families, why should not Australia follow suit and offer the vaccine for free through the national immunisation program?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:28): I thank the senator for his question and for some advance notice of it. The federal government takes the cases of meningococcal very seriously. The nation's chief medical officer is monitoring this situation very closely. We are of course well aware that there are parents who are concerned about this, but I do note that the cases of meningococcal B have declined by about 60 per cent over the last 10 years.

However, many in the chamber know that this is a matter for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. The government takes the advice of the PBAC very seriously. They are the independent experts. My advice is that this particular vaccine has been before the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, I think, three times, and each time it was determined by the PBAC that it was not deemed effective enough to be listed. However, having said that, the company is of course able to offer further information if they believe that that further information would provide more evidence of the efficacy of the vaccine.

We certainly take the PBAC's recommendations very closely and very seriously, which is evidenced by around $4.9 billion worth of extra investment in the listing of medicines from the PBAC. These are the experts, the independent experts that have that knowledge and, indeed, the expertise to advise government, and it is incumbent on the government to accept that advice and ensure that we make the best decisions for the health of people right across the nation.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a supplementary question?