Meningitis Now staff member Clara Wiggins

Campaign to raise meningitis vaccination rates in Liverpool

Clara Wiggins | 29th October 2019

A grieving mum who said she would do “anything” to hear her daughter’s laugh again is backing our campaign to raise meningitis vaccination rates in the Liverpool area, after figures showed the region has one of the lowest uptake rates in the country

Campaign to raise meningitis vaccination rates in Liverpool

Five years after losing daughter Alisha to the disease while she was studying in Liverpool, Michaela Bartolini is supporting a pilot project we’re running to raise the numbers getting the MenACWY vaccination in the city and surrounding areas.

The project is an integral part of our Student Awareness Week and, if successful, we plan to roll it out in other cities in future years. Specific efforts in Liverpool include working closely with universities and targeting students with ads on their main bus routes through the city. News about the campaign has been picked up by both local and national press, with the story running in daily papers like the Mail and the Mirror as well as local Liverpool papers and radio stations.

Figures for 2017 – when this year’s first-year university students (freshers) will have been offered the MenACWY vaccination at school – show that 73.7% of eligible students in Liverpool were vaccinated, compared with a national average of 79%. While a number of students will have since had the vaccine through catch-up programmes or their GP, a significant number still urgently need to have the vaccine to protect themselves and their friends.

Older teenagers and new university students are at higher risk of infection because many of them mix closely with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their noses and throats. Students may get the vaccine via their registered GP surgery or their University Health Centre.

Making sure young people are vaccinated

Alisha Bartolini died while she was a student Liverpool Hope University in November 2014, after a Hallowe’en-themed night out. Since then, mum Michaela has been a strong advocate for making sure young people in the region are vaccinated against the disease that killed her daughter.

“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about Alisha,” Michaela told us.

“Her life was cut so tragically short and if I can help to prevent this happening to even one other young person, I will."

“Please make sure you or your child is vaccinated. Please make sure you or they know the signs and symptoms of meningitis. It is a rare disease, but it is also a disease that strikes indiscriminately and strikes fast. Because of this, knowing the signs and symptoms really can be the difference between life and death.”

As the five-year anniversary of Alisha’s death approached, Michaela also wanted to pay tribute to her daughter. “From such a young age, Alisha was always a kind, caring and happy child growing up into a loving, thoughtful and beautiful young lady,” she said.

“She loved spending time between her family and friends, enjoying evenings in at home, particularly with her baby brother (at the time) or catching up with her friends socially."

“But one thing was for certain, Alisha was a 'Mother Hen'. She would always make sure others were ok before herself and she just loved taking people 'under her wing'."

“Alisha had a very dry sense of humour and was very loud but I wouldn't have had her any other way and today, would give anything to hear that infectious laugh again.”

Important message

In the years since Alisha died, Liverpool Hope University has taken significant steps to ensure as many students as possible get vaccinated. Meningitis Now is also working with other universities in the city on this important message.

John Ryan, Head of Student Welfare and Wellbeing, said, “We continue to take steps to ensure as many students as possible are aware of the dangers of meningitis and we are pleased to be able to support Meningitis Now’s campaign. It is important that all universities encourage their students to protect themselves by getting the meningitis vaccine”.

As well as working with universities, Meningitis Now is also supported by GPs in the North West who want to make sure all young people and not just students know about the need to be vaccinated.

Dianne Draper, Screening and Immunisations Lead, NHS England and NHS Improvement North West West, said, “It is relatively easy to reach students, but a lot harder to raise awareness among the general population – in particular young people."

“This is why we thought it was so important to support this campaign and help make sure its reach is felt beyond just the universities."

“We will be working closely with Meningitis Now to get their messages out through GP surgeries in the city and we will be looking at other ways we can make sure the young people of Liverpool and the surrounding areas are protected against meningitis.”

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