Free meningococcal vaccine for NSW teenagers to protect against W strain of disease

 

Teenager immuniseFree meningococcal vaccine for NSW teenagers to protect against W strain of disease - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

A free vaccination program to protect teenagers from the W strain of the deadly meningococcal disease has been announced by the New South Wales Government.

The announcement has come after pressure from lobby group Meningococcal Australia for all states and territories to follow the lead of Western Australia.

In January, WA's Health Department announced a four-in-one vaccination program would be freely available to 15 to 19-year-olds to protect against strains A, C, W and Y.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said 180,000 students in Years 11 and 12 would be given a vaccination to protect them against the four meningococcal strains.

He said notifications of the W strain of the disease had almost tripled across the state since 2015 and about 8 per cent of people infected with the W strain died from the disease.

"You can die within hours, or even if you don't die, you can be left with loss of your legs, your arms, your fingers," Mr Hazzard said.

The $9-million program will begin next term and would be rolled out statewide.

"[It] doesn't matter what part of the state you're in - in the most remote parts of our state, in the regions and in our cities - every 17 and 18-year-old, the most at-risk group, will be immunised against this particular bacteria," he said.

Last month, the Federal Government said a national level response to the disease was being coordinated.

A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health said Australia's chief medical officer had established a focus group within the department to examine the strain's epidemiology.

The review would consider the risks of the current and future trajectory of the disease, as well as options for addressing it within existing processes.

Cases of W strain increasing in Australia

There are five main strains of meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y and B.

In Australia, the B strain is the most common form of the disease, although in the last two years the W strain, which was previously rare, has been noticeably increasing.

Of the 256 cases of meningococcal disease in Australia last year, 48 to 50 per cent were cases of the W strain.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, the NSW Health director for communicable diseases, said people of all ages were vulnerable to the W strain.

Source: ABC online www.abc.net.au

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