The only manufacturer of the vaccine, CSL Ltd, formerly known as the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, has announced it will stop its production from March 2007.
"Q-Fever is on the short-list for organisms thought to be potential threats for bioterrorism," said Professor Andrew Lloyd, from the Inflammatory Diseases Research Unit at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). "Loss of the vaccine, Q-Vax, would be a serious drawback for public safety.
"Without it, we will be leaving ourselves open to outbreaks of the disease which immobilise and cause great suffering to large numbers of people, particularly in country areas. In some instances, complications from the disease may be life threatening.
"My research has shown that the incidence of Q-Fever is closely related to drought conditions. The organism involved is resistant to environmental extremes and blows around in the dust. People who work with animals are particularly vulnerable, but the animals themselves show no sign of the disease."
Professor Lloyd said any outbreak of the disease, which is highly infectious and for which there is no alternative prevention strategy, could also have serious economic ramifications. These include direct health care costs and lost productivity in the major rural industries of beef, lamb and wool production, amongst others.
"Before the widespread uptake of the vaccine, there were approximately 100 WorkCover claims made annually in NSW alone. A single settlement of over a million dollars was made in the NSW Supreme Court in 1997 to a meat inspector suffering prolonged illness after Q-Fever," said Professor Lloyd.
Professor Lloyd said approximately one in three individuals living in rural areas will be infected during their lifetime.
"There are around 600 diagnosed cases in Australia per year, but for every case diagnosed, there are approximately another three to four which pass undiagnosed, or which are mislabelled as influenza or similar illnesses," he said. "The true incidence is likely to be thousands of cases annually.
"Currently 12,000 Australians are vaccinated against Q-Fever every year. Stopping production of the vaccine would also be a significant loss to the international community too, as the infection is prevalent world-wide, and no other country has a licensed vaccine.
"The public is being sold out. CSL used to be publicly-owned, like Telstra, but now it's privately-owned they have lost any sense of obligation to the Australian community. The government needs to take urgent action to ensure the vaccine remains available."