School leavers, particularly those going to university or college this month, are being strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease after latest figures showed less than a quarter of young people across the South West have received the vaccine so far this year.
Last month Public Health England (PHE) advised all school leavers, but especially ‘freshers’, to get the jab from their GP to protect against this potentially deadly disease.
By the end of August this year an average of just 22% of 18-year-olds leaving school – not just those going on to university – had been vaccinated across the South West, according to data from GP surgeries. In Somerset the MenACWY vaccine uptake figure is 34.9%.
Public Health England is targeting new students who are at greatest risk because they mix closely with large groups of new people, some of whom unknowingly carry the bacteria, enabling it to spread more quickly. With freshers’ weeks about to get underway at universities across the South West, PHE is renewing the call for teenagers to get this highly effective, potentially life-saving injection which protects against group W meningococcal disease (MenW). In the first few days of university, exposure to the bacteria that cause meningitis increases dramatically.
In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in cases of this highly aggressive strain of MenW, with one in 10 cases resulting in death. In 2009/10 there were in total only 22 cases in all children and adults in England, but this rose to 209 in 2015/16, up from 176 the previous year.
Anyone infected by these bacteria can develop meningitis (infection and inflammation of the lining of the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning), which can develop suddenly and progress rapidly. Early symptoms include headache, vomiting, muscle pain, fever, and cold hands and feet. Survivors are often left with life-changing disabilities like hearing loss, brain damage and loss of limbs. The vaccine not only protects those vaccinated, it also helps control the spread of the disease in the wider population.
Cllr. Anna Groskop, Cabinet Member with responsibility for health and wellbeing, Somerset County Council said: “I would urge all young people starting the freshers week at their new University to make it their top priority to get their jab from their GP, either at home, or where they are studying.
“Parents should also make a point of reminding young people starting Universities across the country that they urgently need to get this highly effective vaccination which can save lives and prevent devastating, lifelong disability.”
Julie Yates, Consultant in Public Health – Screening and Immunisation Lead for PHE South West, said: “It’s only a month since we first made our appeal to these teenagers, so we know many will still be making arrangements to get vaccinated. If they are not registered with a GP yet at University, they need to get registered now and get their jab.
“New students should also be alert to the signs and symptoms and should not wait for a rash to develop before seeking medical attention urgently. Students are also encouraged to look out for their friends, particularly if they go to their room unwell.”