Australian expansion of school-based Meningococcal C Vaccination program

Australian Minister for Health, Morris Iemma today announced the expansion of the NSW school-based Meningococcal C Vaccination program to include immunisation for high school students in the new school term against:

"This is the most comprehensive high school vaccination program ever seen in Australia and the first in the world to address the recurring epidemics of whooping cough in this age group," Mr Iemma said.

"The program promises the best protection the health system can offer from these serious conditions for every young person living in NSW."

In line with the four-year NSW Immunisation Strategy developed by NSW Health, the following roll-out will occur from Monday 3 May 2004:

  • For the first time, Year 7 students in all NSW high schools will be offered hepatitis B vaccination through a two-dose program.
  • Students in all NSW high schools will be offered a newly recommended combined adolescent vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough; and
  • NSW Health will continue the Meningococcal C vaccination program for Year 7 students, and any other students who may have missed out, in all NSW high schools.

Mr Iemma said the inclusion of the vaccine in the new immunisation program was aimed at countering the periodic surge in children presenting with whooping cough in NSW.

"Whooping cough epidemics occur every three to four years throughout the world.

"In previous outbreaks we have had up to 700 cases reported each month - up to six times the usual number of cases.

"It typically affects young people and very young babies. Often children need to be treated in hospital and it can prove to be very serious, even fatal, in babies.

"The $2.5 million the NSW Government is putting towards service provision for the new immunisation program will address the immediate need for protection amongst high school students," Mr Iemma said.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, the NSW Director of Communicable Diseases Branch, confirmed that most notifications of whooping cough are currently occurring in young people aged 12 to 17 years.

"For historical reasons this group did not receive sufficient doses of whooping cough vaccine as infants. This can pose a potential risk to the health of infants and babies who are yet to be fully immunised," Dr McAnulty said.

In addition to whooping cough vaccine, Dr McAnulty said there was good reason to establish a routine annual program of vaccinations for hepatitis B for young people.

"Hepatitis B can lead to significant health problems. A large percentage of babies and young children who develop hepatitis B are exposed to chronic infection that can be a lifelong burden or prove fatal."

NSW Health recommends that all children should be vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth and at two, four and six months of age.

All children aged between 10 to 13 years who were not immunised as babies should also receive a course of vaccine.

Dr McAnulty confirmed that despite a National Health and Medical Research Council recommendation that all children aged between 10 and 13 years receive such a vaccination, uptake rates in NSW currently sit at less than 20 per cent, compared with up to 80 per cent coverage in other States.

"Making the vaccine freely available at schools for Year 7 students will ensure a significant improvement in protection against this disease," Dr McAnulty said.

Mr Iemma said the State Government had already accelerated the Meningococcal C Vaccination roll-out across NSW to ensure young people get faster access to this life-saving vaccine.

"Almost 500,000 students have now received immunisation since August last year, with the entire school based program on track to be completed by December.

"This new immunisation strategy continues the vital collaboration between the Health and Education portfolios for the protection of all school-aged children."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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