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Australian students offered free meningococcal vaccines after unprecedented outbreak

Peter Terlato 5 April 2017

Vaccination school

One strain's case numbers tripled between 2015 and 2016.

A strain of the rare but potentially fatal meningococcal disease tripled in case counts between 2015 and 2016, encouraging the NSW government to introduce free vaccinations for high school teens this year.

Immunisation consent forms will be distributed this week to Year 11 and 12 students at high schools as part of the state government's $9 million NSW Meningococcal W Response Program.

Meningococcal W, now the most common strain of the disease in Australia, has seen case numbers rise from 9 in 2015 to 26 in 2016. It also has triple the mortality rate (14%) of other strains.

Students will be administered free meningococcal ACWY vaccines, which will protect against four strains of the disease, during the second school term (April-June 2017).

"The NSW Government has acted swiftly to protect the most vulnerable group of people – those in their late teens – from this rising threat," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

“I strongly encourage parents to take advantage of this very important opportunity and sign and return the consent forms, as meningococcal disease can result in lifelong complications or even death.”

NSW Health director of communicable diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said that teens are high-risk targets.

"This is due to social behaviours that result in the disease being transmitted through close physical contact, such as frequent kissing and participation in social activities like going to nightclubs," she said.

However, it's not just teens that need vaccines. There is serious concern that millions of Australian adults are forgoing free vaccinations each year, risking preventable, life-threatening infection and disease.

A new report, Vaccine Myopia, published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week found that just one in two Aussie adults (51%) are receiving government-funded immunisations each year. Comparatively, 73% of Australian adolescents obtain free vaccinations and 93% of children are vaccinated each year.

Picture: Shutterstock

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