Parents with kids in Year 7, 10 and 11: You’re about to get an important letter sent home.

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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.

“By being vaccinated these young men and women are helping to protect those around them through the concept of ‘herd immunity’. Most importantly however they are protecting themselves against contracting certain life-threatening illnesses in the future – something that no parent ever wants to contemplate.”

Make your teenager’s health a priority and complete the school immunisation consent form to ensure your teen receives the latest vaccinations.

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Vaccination Facts from The Department of Health – Immunise Australia Program.

The dTpa vaccine prevents three diseases, Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis. Diphtheria is a highly contagious and infectious disease which impacts your breathing and sometimes your skin. In the early 1900s it killed more people in Australia than any other infectious disease and it is still responsible for thousands of deaths worldwide in countries without access to the vaccination. No vaccinated person has died from diphtheria in Australia for more than 20 years.

Tetanus, another vaccine preventable disease, is not contagious but it can be deadly. Caused by toxins found in soil that attack the central nervous system, it gives sufferers severe spasms and breathing difficulties. It is particularly deadly for infants and the over 70s.

Pertussis (whooping cough) is highly contagious but not usually deadly apart from infants under four months who are not yet vaccinated. It causes severe coughing and vomiting and can last for months. Vaccines are given to widely to protect members of the community who are at most risk as pertussis can lead to pneumonia, brain damage and death in unvaccinated babies.

The Meningococcal AWCY Vaccine prevents four strains of the life-threatening meningococcal disease. The meningococcal bacteria cause septicaemia and meningitis – often simultaneously, and while most patients recover, one in ten patients with invasive meningococcal will die and one in 30 are left with severe brain damage.

For more information on any of the vaccinations listed here, visit the Immunise Australia website or chat to your GP.

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