A new meningococcal vaccination program will launch this year for all NSW year 11 and 12 students, to combat the rise in the W strain of the disease.
Under the NSW Meningococcal W Response Program, 17 and 18-year-olds will receive a four-antigen vaccine, which provides protection against the A, C, W and Y strains.
Funded by the government, the program will start in term two and be expanded to cover other high school students in the following years.
There are several strains of meningococcal, with each requiring its own vaccinations.
The C strain was once the most prevalent in Australia, but childhood immunisation programs have successfully lowered the rate dramatically.
Meningococcal W has become a prominent strain nationally and in NSW, with the state’s notifications almost tripling since 2015.
This is the strain the new vaccination program will target.
Over the last decade, the W strain has had an eight per cent mortality rate compared with a four per cent rate for other strains.
The B strain on the other hand, accounts for 85 per cent of invasive meningococcal in Australia.
The vaccine for the B strain is usually available to parents on the private market for approximately $120, but there is currently a shortage in Australia. The meningococcal B vaccine is part of government-funded national immunisation programs in several other countries, which has lead to those countries getting priority from the vaccine’s manufacturer.
The government has said they have spoken to the B strain vaccine manufacturer to increase supply in Australia.
Meningococcal of all strains is a particularly nasty disease.
One in ten cases of meningococcal are fatal, and it can kill within hours, according to Meningococcal Australia.
It is a bacterial infection that involves both septicaemia, or blood poisoning, and meningitis, or inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
For survivors, one in five will have a permanent disability, such as loss of limbs and brain damage.
Symptoms include a severe headache, fever, fatigue, stiff or painful neck, sensitivity to light, convulsions, vomiting, cold hands and feet, shivers, severe aches and pains, rapid breathing, diarrhoea, and in the later stages a striking purple rash.
Immunisation experts believe teenagers are particularly at risk because of their physical closeness with peers, including coughing, sneezing and kissing.
Minister for Health Brad Hazzard said the government would do whatever possible to protect young people against Meningococcal W and other strains.
“The NSW Government is now allocating $9 million for this vaccination program in its first year, which will see 180,000 vulnerable teenagers in all high schools eligible to be vaccinated,” Mr Hazzard said.
If any Year 11 and 12 students miss out on the vaccine at school, they will be able to get the vaccine for free from their GP later in the year.
For more information about the program, visit the Department of Health website at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/meningococcal-w.aspx or call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.