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Teenagers will be able to receive a free quad-strain meningococcal vaccine from next year.

The meningococcal A, C W and Y vaccine will be added to the National Immunisation Program from April 2019, with the vaccination made free for students aged 14 to 16 years under a school-based program.

Teens aged 15 to 19 years of age, who have not already received the vaccine in school, will be able to get the jab through an ongoing GP-based catch-up program.

It’s expected more than one million teenagers will receive the free meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine under the $52 million program.

Meningococcal is a rare but very serious infection that occurs when meningococcal bacteria from the throat or nose invades the body.

Those lucky enough to survive can suffer devastating long-term effects, including loss of arms and legs, deformed limbs, scars, deafness, blurred vision, learning difficulties and headaches.

There has been a spike in both the number of invasive and fatal meningococcal cases in Australia over recent years.

In 2017, there were 382 cases reported, up from 252 cases in 2016 and 182 cases in 2015.

Deaths associated with meningococcal disease have also risen, with 28 in 2017, compared with 11 deaths in 2016 and 12 deaths in 2015.

“I am absolutely committed to strengthening Australia’s world-class national vaccination program and urge all Australian parents to have their teenagers vaccinated,” federal health minister Greg Hunt said.

The announcement comes after the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) advised to list the meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine for adolescents.

It also comes after a free ACWY meningococcal vaccine was added to the National Immunisaton Program for 12-month-old children on July 1.

Even though teens now have access to a free ACWY meningococcal vaccine, they aren’t protected against meningococcal B.

Meningococcal Australia has been pushing to have strain B vaccines, currently between $120 and $155 per dose, made available for free.

For more information about the free meningococcal vaccine for teens, visit http://www.health.gov.au/

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