All NSW students in year 11 and 12 will be offered the free meningococcal vaccination to combat the rise in W strain cases and protect them against the potentially fatal disease.
The NSW Government announced the new $9 million school-based meningococcal vaccination program for senior students at all public, private and Catholic schools in response to the increasing number of W strain cases detected in the state and nationally.
"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," Health minister Brad Hazzard said on Monday.
W strain has become the most prevalent strain nationally and in NSW. Though the total number of cases is low, NSW notifications have almost tripled since 2015, from nine to 26 cases in 2016. Two more cases have been confirmed in 2017.
The hypervirulent strain has an increased propensity to spread and tends to cause more severe disease.
W strain has twice the mortality rate of other strains. Some eight per cent of people who contracted the strain have died in the last decade, compared to a four per cent mortality rate for other meningococcal strains, according to NSW health.
Acting on the advice of immunisation experts, the government will introduce the NSW Meningococcal W Response Program in Term Two for 17 and 18 year olds.
This group is particularly at risk of contracting the strain and passing it onto others because of their physical interaction with their peers.
The four-antigen vaccine will also offer protection against meningococcal strain A, C and Y. In 2016, there were a total of 262 of meningococcal cases of all strains.
The program will be expanded to cover other year 11 and year 12 high school students in the coming years, Mr Hazzard's office said. Teenagers at TAFE or undergoing apprenticeships will also be eligible.
"This week I made clear to senior health officials that the NSW Government would do whatever possible to protect our young people against Meningococcal W and other strains," Mr Hazzard said.
If any year 11 or year 12 students miss out on the vaccine at school they will be able to get vaccinated at their GP.
Meningococcal is a disease caused via infection with Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria grows in the back of the throat and nose and can spread from person to person via kissing, sneezing and coughing.
The percentage of people who are carriers increases from less than five percent in infants to roughly eight per cent in primary school children and up to 24 per cent in 19 year olds, before decreasing to about eight per cent in 50 year olds.
Between five and 25 per cent of carriers don't show any symptoms or illness.
The UK first introduced the vaccine for adolescents in 2015 . WA recently introduced a similar school-based program.
The program targets the group that offers the greatest protection to the individual and the broader community, NSW Health said. Parents with younger children and teenagers can pay for the vaccine, which costs more than $100 through pharmacies and GPs.
Infants will be protected through herd immunity conferred from the program, NSW Health advised.
Currently one year olds are offered the meningococcal C vaccine free as part of the National Immunisation Program.
Last Monday the federal Department of Health warned clinicians to be vigilant about diagnosing type W.
The new program is not part of the National Immunisation Program, but the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, has established a focused group within the Department to investigate its epidemiology and coordinate responses at the national level.
The review will consider the risks of the current and potential future trajectory of the disease as well as options for addressing the infection, within existing processes.
Federal Health Department officials have been having discussions with pharmaceutical companies regarding options for managing meningococcal W disease.