Vaccination campaign targets new strain of virus

THE STATE Government has responded to an outbreak of a new strain of the potentially fatal meningococcal virus with a $9 million vaccine campaign for year 11 and 12 students to begin at the start of Term 2.

The strain, called the W strain, has become a prominent strain in the state over the past two years, with the number of notifications tripling in that time.

Over the last 10 years, the W strain has had an eight per cent mortality rate compared with a four per cent rate for other strains.

NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard said he has notified senior health officials that the NSW Government would do whatever possible to protect our 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.," he said.

The NSW Meningococcal W Response Program will target 17 and 18 year olds this year, as immunisation experts advise that this age group is particularly at risk because of their physical closeness with peers (eg kissing, coughing, sneezing).

The program will start in Term 2, and be expanded to cover other upper high school students in subsequent years.

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.

Under the program teenagers will receive a four-antigen vaccine, which provides protection against the A, C, W and Y strains.

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus.

These illnesses are often severe and include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord and bloodstream infections.

Meningococcus bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit.

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