Parents of high school children in years 7, 10 and 11 will this week be sent an information kit and consent form for the vaccinations recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council for 2018.
It is the first time that the single dose Meningococcal AWCY Vaccine has been included as part of the school immunisation program, which is great news according to Dr Chris Blyth, Specialist Paediatrician and Lead Researcher in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at Princess Margaret Hospital in WA.
“Meningococcal is a terrible disease and with an increase in cases of the emerging ‘W’ strain in Australia, we can help to protect our young people from it with this vaccination.
“Adolescents are particularly susceptible to meningococcal as it spreads through bacteria found in saliva. All that teenage kissing means it is more likely to spread in adolescent groups, although we have seen many meningococcal cases across every age group.”
As part of this year’s school immunisation schedule, Year 7 students will be offered a booster of the dTpa Vaccine (Diphtheria, Tetanus & Pertussis (whooping cough) as a single dose and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine in a new two-dose schedule with a minimum of six months apart.
“The dTpa vaccine is important for two main reasons; firstly, it boosts immunity to Tetanus which wears off over time and secondly it helps to keep cases of Pertussis low, protecting those in the community who are more likely to fall very ill or die from it,” says Dr Blyth.
The HPV vaccine, now offered in two doses rather than three, protects against up to 80% of all cervical cancers in women and 90% of all HPV cancers in men. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that most of the time clears up on its own, but it is highly contagious and certain high-risk strains can cause cancer.
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As Dr Blyth explains, students are vaccinated in year seven because it is imperative we give it to them before they become sexually active.
“Realistically it is very difficult to judge when the majority of kids will become sexually active, so we pick a time in their lives before they fully mature. In Australia we are really unique in that we give the vaccine to both boys and girls to protect the individual and their future sexual partners from HPV cancers.”
Once kids get to high school age it can be easy to forget about the importance of vaccinations with so many other things to worry about such as exam or study stress, bullying, social media and their general wellbeing. As Dr Blyth explains however, adolescents are a unique member of the community, and it’s important that their specific vaccination needs are met.