The approach was so successful that the campaign, which took place at the University of Nottingham, was featured as an example of best practice in a report issued by Public Health England.
The research, carried out by academics Dr David Turner (Honorary Consultant Microbiologist at the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences) and Dr Christopher Bayliss (Reader in Bacterial Genetics at the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics and Genome Biology) in 2015, interviewed students as they first arrived at university about whether they had been vaccinated.
Anyone who said they hadn’t were offered an immediate free vaccination. The study found that the number who were immunised against MenACWY went up from just 31% at registration to 71% following the interviews*.
Dr Turner said: “The significant boost in coverage following the vaccine campaign demonstrates the importance of offering vaccination at enrolment in tertiary educational establishments and suggests that rolling out this strategy more widely could significantly improve vaccine coverage in this age group.
“The campaign also provided significant logistical advantages compared with offering a large number of individual appointments. However, a large proportion of unvaccinated students still declined vaccination due to a lack of perceived need or benefit suggesting that further advertising of the national campaign could be necessary to raise awareness of the vital need for the MenACWY vaccine.”
Dr Bayliss added: “Vaccination is highly effective at preventing meningitis, septicaemia and the other infections caused by meningococci. Our study shows that offering MenACWY vaccination as students arrive at a university is a really effective way of maximising protection of this vulnerable age group – it also helps to reach overseas students who are often disorientated by arrival in a new country and education system and who may not previously have had access to meningitis vaccines.”
The report issued by Public Health England recommended that the University of Nottingham example may be helpful in identifying ways in which Higher Education Institutions can play an active role in improving awareness and promoting vaccination uptake amongst students.
The University of Leicester has – like other universities - a programme of sending letters to students to warn them of the dangers of meningococcal meningitis and recommending MenACWY immunisation prior to arrival at university. The University also recommends attending a university-linked GP practice to obtain this vaccine.
*These figures are likely to be different now following the introduction of the MenACWY vaccination at schools, but the research nevertheless shows the value of this kind of direct intervention at the start of a student’s university years.