Meningitis Now staff member Andy Hopkinson

Lack of knowledge key to teen meningitis risk

Andy Hopkinson | 20th August 2019

We’re warning of ‘a perfect storm’ of ignorance, risk and confusion around a lifesaving vaccine for young people that will, unless checked, lead to young people losing their lives to meningitis in the coming year

Mason family backing ACWY vaccine after meningitis death

The warning follows the publication of new data that shows that over 80 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 do not consider themselves at risk from meningitis. Moreover, only one in four of this age group knows the signs and symptoms and a third think the disease is not preventable.

The research, undertaken by Populus, highlights a cause for concern for all parents as their youngsters prepare for the next stage of their adult lives as A-level exam results are announced. 

Parents need to take control

Whilst recognising that legal responsibility for the healthcare of children aged 18 and over is down to the young person, Dr Tom Nutt, our chief executive, said, “Parents really need to take control of the MenACWY vaccination process and ensure that their child has received this lifesaving vaccination and in doing so ensure that they do not become one of the million young people who have so far missed out.” 

Eligibility for the MenACWY vaccination, which is free from GPs for most young people aged up to 25, is confusing, confirms Dr Nutt, but he goes on to say, ‘This should not be a barrier to checking if your son or daughter has received the vaccine and where necessary that an appointment is booked to get it done as soon as possible."

“If teenagers are going to university, I’d strongly urge parents to get it done at least two weeks before their child leaves home.” 

Whilst meningitis remains a rare disease in the UK, there are good reasons the government introduced this vaccine in 2015 – namely an increase in cases of MenW, which was targeting young people. Knowing that one in four people of this age carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis then the risk becomes all too clear.

Dr Nutt concludes, “Our research sheds new light on the issue of poor vaccine uptake and in doing so highlights a perfect storm where deaths, as a direct result of not being vaccinated, will sadly occur.” 

Tim’s story

Parents Fiona and Gavin Mason know only too well the agony missing this vaccination can cause, after losing their 21-year-old son Tim to meningococcal group W in March 2018. 

They believe Tim paid the ultimate price for professional and systems failures in the meningococcal ACWY vaccination system.

“Now we want to make sure none of those we can save by the simple administration of a vaccine are missed, as Tim was missed,” Fiona said.

Gavin and Fiona, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, are supporting us in urging parents to take control of the vaccination process. 

Tim Mason was attending college and working as an apprentice electrical engineer when he became ill. In just over 21 hours from the first visible symptoms he had lost his life to MenW.

An inquest heard how several opportunities to diagnose and treat Tim had been missed.

Should never have happened

“Tim’s death should never have happened”, Fiona said. “He paid the price of professional and systems failures."

“Tim, like many others, was never offered the MenACWY vaccine in spite of being in the priority vaccination group."

“Our fight is to understand how our kind, fun-loving, bright boy could have suffered this catastrophic systems and professional failure under the National Health system we are all so proud of."

“We’re determined to expose the failure of the vaccination system in the hope that we might do some good and stop another family from suffering the same loss."

“If we spread the word and encourage all those unvaccinated young people to ask for the vaccine yet more lives might be saved. Make sure your family and friends know about the vaccine – tell them Tim’s story and spread the word."

“We would then feel Tim’s approval. His mantra was "get your s**t together", so that is what we are now trying to do for others.”

Watch the video

To help drive home their message the family has recorded this moving video.

In addition to checking and getting the MenACWY vaccine we’re also reminding parents to ensure that their children know the signs and symptoms of meningitis. Knowing these, irrespective of vaccine status, and knowing to take immediate action if meningitis is suspected, will save lives and reduce the impact of the disease.

A MenACWY vaccine has been offered since autumn 2015 for children in school at around 14 years of age. To ensure older children also received this vaccine, it was offered to those aged between 15 and 18-year-olds in a three-year “catch-up” programme delivered through schools and GP surgeries. Teens who missed the MenACWY vaccine during the catch-up programme remain eligible for the vaccine up to the age of 25. 

Take-up of the vaccine delivered as part of the GP catch-up programme remains low at an estimated 40 per cent. Uptake in the school-based programme is 85 per cent. 

The research was carried out by strategy consultancy Populus. They surveyed 1,100 adults across the UK to understand their attitudes towards meningitis and the level of risk they think the disease poses to them. They also asked about levels of confidence in knowing about the signs and symptoms of the disease.

Meningitis Now awareness - Students

Are you heading off to uni?

Teenagers and young adults are more susceptible to meningitis. Before you set off, make sure you are up-to-date with your meningitis vaccinations and brush-up on your meningitis knowledge. Find out more
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