A NEW vaccination programme has been launched to protect teenagers against meningitis (inflammation of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by four meningococcal strains including MenW.
The initiative has been welcomed by Public Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands and means that from today GPs will be inviting teenagers aged 17 and 18 (born between September 1, 1996 and August 31, 1997) for the vaccine.
PHE says that where possible, it’s important that anyone who plans to go to university this year gets vaccinated before they leave. This group are at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease, as many of them will be mixing closely with lots of new people at university, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria.
The vaccine is being introduced in response to a rapidly growing increase in cases of a highly aggressive strain of meningococcal disease, group W. Cases of MenW have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases in 2009 to 117 in 2014. It is currently responsible for around a quarter of all laboratory-confirmed meningococcal cases in England.
As well as Men W, the vaccination also protects against other forms of the disease – meningococcal disease types A, C and Y – which can also be fatal or cause long term complications for those affected.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said: “We’re encouraging all eligible teenagers to take-up the offer of vaccination when they are contacted by their GP.
“If you’re planning to go to university or college, you should be vaccinated before the start of the academic term or before leaving home for university or college (ideally two weeks in advance).
“Please make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible when the vaccine is offered. First time university entrants from 19 to 24 years of age inclusive should also contact their GP for the vaccination.
“Meningitis can be deadly and survivors are often left with severe disabilities as a result of this terrible disease. This vaccine will save lives and prevent permanent disability.
“We must all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern.
“The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms can include headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet. Be aware of all signs and symptoms and trust your instincts – don’t wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent medical attention.”