I have found a portal to another world. It’s my kid’s school bags. Those unassuming receptacles of books, lunchboxes and assorted paraphernalia have got more powerful magic than David Copperfield.
The school bag can disappear a sock in seconds, school reports vanish just moments after they are placed in the bag, and school notes, well, if they spend too long in the school bag, then they’re gone forever too.
Some notes are for sports carnivals, or excursions or canteen duty. If you miss them then it’s not that important. It won’t change your child’s life. But there’s one note coming home the first few weeks of term one that could. It’s about protecting your child from HPV (human papillomavirus), diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (dTpa) and meningococcal disease. HPV can lead to various forms of cancer, including cervical, head and neck, and genital warts. And meningococcal disease may be rare, but it is deadly – in fact, the number of meningococcal cases in WA doubled from 2016 to 2017, up to 46 cases, tragically resulting in six deaths.
Thanks to steady vaccination rates and a robust health system, Australia is fortunate that we don’t have some of the diseases and death from infections that are common in some countries. In fact, we have such a good bill of health that when it comes to infectious diseases, it’s easy to lose sight of just how important it is to immunise. So if there’s a free, simple way to protect our kids from the diseases they are at risk of being exposed to, why wouldn’t you take that offer up?
If you have a child in Years 8 or 10, then you need to get busy on bag watch. In the next week or so, your child will bring home a consent form which you need to read, sign and return so your child can be included in the free school-based immunisation program. For children in Year 8, it’s the new and improved HPV vaccine and a booster dose of the dTpa vaccine. For those in Year 10, it is the Meningococcal ACWY vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease. Let’s take a look at both below.
Year 8: HPV vaccine and childhood boosters
Last year three of my daughters were overseas, and while I had some concern over other elements of their travel (like "don't go anywhere alone with strange men in Morocco to buy carpets" or "don’t leave your passport on a café table"), I had real peace of mind knowing they were up to date with their HPV and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccinations.
Since the introduction of the National HPV program in 2007, there has been a 90 percent reduction in genital warts in Australian men and women under 21 years old and 62 percent reduction in high grade cervical abnormalities in women under 21.
While the HPV virus is prevalent in 10 to 20 percent of the population at any one time, teenagers are at a higher risk of developing these certain types of cancers because of their increased skin-to-skin content and sexual activity. When your child is 12 or 13, it often feels very young to be considering their later sexual activity, but it often happens sooner than you think, and without your knowledge. That’s why they should complete both doses and make sure they’re fully vaccinated before engaging in sexual activity.
This year, there is a new and more effective vaccine, delivered in just two doses (instead of three as in previous years) and administered six to 12 months apart. The vaccine, Gardasil 9, protects against more cancers than before, so this is great news.
The program includes two HPV vaccines as well as a single booster dose of the childhood vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. I know just how important these boosters are - my husband works in health, and as a nurse he has witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of vaccine preventable diseases.
You don’t want to use tragedy as a call to arms. My friend chose not to have her daughter immunised with Gardasil. At 17, her daughter had contracted HPV and had to undergo invasive treatments for genital warts. She will still be at risk later in life of cervical cancer.
Year 10: Meningococcal
In 2018 alone, four cases have been reported in WA. While the disease can be contracted at any age, older teenagers and young adults have a high risk factor. Why? Because young adults between the ages of 15 to 24 have many intimate behaviours like sharing drinks or kissing, which can spread the disease, according to Meningococcal Australia.
The Year 10 ACWY vaccination provides protection against invasive meningococcal disease. Immunising will help decrease the spread of the infectious bacteria within the community. The WA state-funded vaccination program provides additional protection for teenagers - in 2017, 67 percent of Year 10 students received the vaccine. This year, the goal is to up that number - and all it takes is going through your child's bag for that form in the first few weeks of the term, signing it and sending it back to school.
So, I say to parents, please don’t miss those notes in the school bags. On the upside, your school bag vigil might even uncover the odd lost sock or two!
Have you signed your child's consent form to ensure they are protected?
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner, The Department of Health Western Australia.
The Department of Health Western Australia provides health and medical information to help individuals and their communities to manage and improve their health, wellbeing and medical conditions. Our public health system is focused on delivering a safe, high quality, accessible and sustainable health system to ensure that Western Australians enjoy a standard of health that is among the highest in the world.