Public Health England (PHE) is welcoming the start of the new MenACWY vaccination programme that will offer teenagers protection against meningitis (inflammation of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by four meningococcal strains including MenW.
From today, GPs will be inviting teenagers aged 17 and 18 (born between 01 September 1996 and 31 August 1997) for the vaccine. All adolescents born between 01 September 1996 and 31 August 1997 in England are eligible for vaccination regardless of their future plans.
Where possible, it’s important that anyone who plans to go to university this year gets vaccinated before they leave. This group are at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease, as many of them will be mixing closely with lots of new people at university, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria.
The vaccine is being introduced in response to a rapidly growing increase in cases of a highly aggressive strain of meningococcal disease, group W. Cases of MenW have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases in 2009 to 117 in 2014. It is currently responsible for around a quarter of all laboratory-confirmed meningococcal cases in England.
In March 2015, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reviewed the outbreak in detail and concluded that this increase was likely to continue in future years unless action is taken, and advised that 14 to 18 year-olds should be immunised against meningococcal group W (MenW).The vaccination programme was announced in June.
As well as Men W, the vaccination also protects against other forms of the disease – meningococcal disease types A, C and Y – which can also be fatal or cause long term complications for those affected.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said:
“We’re encouraging all eligible teenagers to take-up the offer of vaccination when they are contacted by their GP.
“If you’re planning to go to university or college, you should be vaccinated before the start of the academic term or before leaving home for university or college (ideally 2 weeks in advance). Please make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible when the vaccine is offered.
“First time university entrants from 19 to 24 years of age inclusive should also contact their GP for the vaccination.
“Meningitis can be deadly and survivors are often left with severe disabilities as a result of this terrible disease.
“This vaccine will save lives and prevent permanent disability.
“We must all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern. The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms can include headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet. Be aware of all signs and symptoms and trust your instincts – don’t wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent medical attention.”
Sue Davie, Chief Executive of Meningitis Now, said:
“As a charity dealing with the consequences of the disease on a daily basis I would plead directly to parents to make sure that their children gets the Men ACWY vaccination. We are particularly concerned with those going to university or college in the autumn as they are at a higher risk from what has been called ‘freshers’ flu’.
“It is critical that young people are not complacent about the disease and they take the necessary steps to protect themselves, stay vigilant and seek urgent medical help if they suspect it.
“This is a cruel disease, it does not discriminate and could significantly alter the future outlook for young people if they are not protected or meningitis aware.”
Chris Head, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation Chief Executive, said:
“The Meningitis Research Foundation is delighted that the government has moved so quickly to halt the rise of MenW ST-11 with this MenACWY vaccination programme for 14 to 24 year olds.
“The rise in Men W ST-11 disease is particularly worrying as it causes more severe illness and a higher death rate than other strains.
“We urge all who are eligible to make sure they get MenACWY vaccine.”
Meningitis case studies
Amy Davis from Surrey contracted bacterial meningitis at the age of 18. She said:
“I’m reminded every day of the moment I contracted meningitis. In August 2012, after a year and a half of trying to save my leg, there was no choice but to have it amputated. Despite being only in my early twenties I’ve already had a hip replacement and have chronic arthritis in my foot – this is all because of the meningitis. I look at other girls my age and feel so envious when they can go dress and shoe shopping, it makes me so frustrated. Getting the MEN ACWY vaccine is so important for teenagers. The risks of not getting it are just not worth it.”
Cindy Sitambuli-Davis’s brother Saleem contracted meningitis during his second year at university. She said:
“In 2007 my family’s lives changed forever. Saleem had been out on the Friday night with his girlfriend and the next day thought he had the symptoms of a hangover. His girlfriend and flat mate found him dead in his bed later on the Sunday.
“The last telephone conversation I had with my brother he told me he wanted do something different with his life – to ‘help people who don’t have a voice’ – and that’s why I think it’s so important for people like me to speak out. I wouldn’t wish what our family have experienced on anyone and taking a few moments to make an appointment with your GP and get yourself vaccinated could mean the difference between life and death. I will be making sure my son, Saleem’s nephew who is now 18 years old, is vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.”