Only 35% of those eligible to protect themselves from a particularly deadly strain of meningitis last winter, chose to do so.
In a report published in GP magazine (10 June), GP leaders highlight Public Health England figures that show MenACWY vaccine was give to just 35% of those eligible in England, leaving thousands of young people at risk. With take up likely to be similar across all countries of the UK this means that up to 250,000 have not received the jab.
All teenagers aged 17 and 18 are eligible to receive the ACWY vaccine for free since August last year. Older first-time university entrants aged 19 to 25 can also claim the free vaccination, introduced to combat the rise in MenW cases in adolescents.
Cases of bacterial meningitis can spike during the winter months and students are particularly susceptible. Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers.
Liz Brown, Meningitis Now chief executive, said:
“Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population. Over 12 per cent of all cases occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.
“It’s vital that those going to Uni this autumn are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine before they go.”
“I needed absolutely no encouragement to get this vaccination”, she said. “Anything to prevent this disease is worth doing.
“Students should ask themselves ‘do you want to die?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then get the vaccine.
“For me this is huge, because honestly, having meningitis sucks.”
There are not vaccines for all strains of meningitis and students must also learn the signs and symptoms of the disease, and look out for themselves and their friends.
Meningitis symptoms can include sickness, fever, fever with cold hands and feet, muscle pain, headaches, confusion, irritability, dislike of bright lights and a rash that doesn’t fade under pressure. Students should seek urgent medical help if they suspect the disease.