Meningitis Now staff member Andy Hopkinson

Survey of young Londoners shows meningitis awareness is "worryingly low"

Andy Hopkinson | 13th August 2021

A new survey shows awareness of meningitis among young people aged 18-24 polled in London is worryingly low, with 71% saying they have heard about the disease but know little or nothing about it

Survey of young Londoners shows meningitis awareness worryingly low

And almost 1 in 3 (31%) were unaware of the possible devastating consequences of picking up the infection, including limb loss and hearing loss. 

Research conducted on behalf of GlaxoSmithKline also found that although the majority (73%) believe it is important to be vaccinated against meningitis, 2 in 5 (39%) either said they hadn’t been vaccinated or admitted they were unsure of their vaccination status. 

Worryingly, 27% were unaware that meningitis vaccines are included in the routine vaccination schedule, and are therefore freely available to anyone under the age of 25 through their GP.

Check vaccination status

The results have prompted concern as students head to university in September, with first year students in particular urged to check their vaccination status with their GP and get the jab for free if they have not previously received it.

In response to the recent survey, a group of charities, health bodies and industry partners have come together to raise awareness of the signs, symptoms and risks of meningitis among London’s young people and their parents.

Meningitis Now, Meningitis Research Foundation, a Life for a Cure, Public Health England (PHE) London, NHS London and GlaxoSmithKline are urging Londoners aged 18-24 to check their MenACWY vaccination status with their GP and catch up as soon as possible if needed.

Survey of young Londoners shows meningitis awareness worryingly low - UK MDAC - Emily

First year university students

The call to action is particularly important for first year university students because 1 in 5 of today’s 18-year-olds in London were not vaccinated during their routine school MenACWY immunisation programme.

Anyone can receive their free MenACWY vaccine up to their 25th birthday, either through their GP or freshers’ vaccination clinics arranged by universities.

The latest survey comes as the NHS continues to catch up on routine meningitis vaccinations among school aged children, the rollout having been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020. 

Between March 2020 and April 2021, children in England missed 22 weeks of school (110 classroom days) , affecting routine MenACWY immunisation programmes across the capital. 

The true scale of the impact of the pandemic on MenACWY vaccine uptake in school aged children is still being analysed and the NHS is ensuring that all missed MenACWY and other routine school-aged immunisations are being delivered as soon as possible.

However, parents are reminded to check whether their child is protected by the MenACWY vaccination and to contact their child’s GP if they still require a vaccine.

Survey of young Londoners shows meningitis awareness worryingly low - UK MDAC - Family image

Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director for PHE, said: 

"It’s clear that awareness of the dangers of meningitis and personal vaccination status amongst young Londoners is worryingly low. The Covid-19 pandemic has dominated headlines for the last 18 months and we are launching this partnership campaign to ensure young Londoners don’t forget about the risks of meningitis. 

“The pandemic has shown us just how important safe and effective vaccines truly are, and the same can be said for the MenACWY vaccine, which remains one of the best defences against meningitis infection. Meningitis can have serious, life-threatening and sometimes life-changing consequences so it’s vital that all young Londoners take their MenACWY vaccine when eligible to do so.”

Dr Vin Diwakar, Medical Director for the NHS in London, said: 

“As Londoners return to their usual pre-pandemic activities, it is vital that young people, especially those who plan to attend university for the first time in September, are aware of the life-threatening risks of meningitis and know how to check their vaccination status with their GP. The MenACWY vaccine is highly effective against meningitis, so if you are a young Londoner or have young children, make sure to have had the vaccine.”

Dr Tom Nutt, Chief Executive of Meningitis Now, said:

“Vaccines are the only way to protect against meningitis and, with teenagers an at-risk group, it’s vital for students and young adults to be aware of this lifesaving message. 

“Every day at Meningitis Now we see the devastating consequences for individuals and their families of meningitis. Don’t put yourself at risk unnecessarily – learn the signs and symptoms and make sure you’re up to date with your vaccinations.”

Rob Dawson, Director, Meningitis Research Foundation, said:

“As people begin to socialise again as Covid-19 restrictions ease, it’s vital to think about protection from other diseases, such as meningitis, too. We know, for example, that in the first few days of university, exposure to the bacteria that cause meningitis increases dramatically. Students and young people need to know the signs and symptoms and get the available vaccines.”

Michelle Bresnahan, Founder of a Life for a Cure, said:

“Having lost my son Ryan to meningitis when he was 16, I know only too well how devastating this disease can be and have seen the worst it can do.

“I would appeal to all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially those who are heading off to university this autumn. As part of preparing for their next exciting chapter, please check with your child’s GP to ensure they are protected from this infectious disease.”

Ramil Burden, Vice President, UK Vaccines at GSK said: 

“We are proud to be part of this innovative partnership. In the past, we have all carried out individual meningitis campaigns and the variety of messages can mean they lose impact. Uniting behind one clear campaign should help provide clarity as we work together to raise awareness and tackle this disease. We also hope this collaboration can be a model for future awareness campaigns.”

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