PUBLIC Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands is welcoming the start of the new MenACWY vaccination programme that will offer teenagers across the region protection against meningitis (inflammation of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by four meningococcal strains including MenW.
From today (Monday, August 3) GPs will be inviting teenagers aged 17 and 18 (born between September 1, 1996 and August 31, 1997) for the vaccine.
All adolescents born in England between these dates are eligible for vaccination regardless of their future plans.
Those behind the scheme say 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.
In March 2015, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reviewed the outbreak in detail and concluded that this increase was likely to continue in future years unless action is taken, and advised that 14 to 18 year-olds should be immunised against meningococcal group W (MenW).
The vaccination programme was announced in June.
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.
“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.”
Sue Davie, Chief Executive of Meningitis Now, said: “As a charity dealing with the consequences of the disease on a daily basis I would plead directly to parents to make sure that their children gets the Men ACWY vaccination.
“We are particularly concerned with those going to university or college in the autumn as they are at a higher risk from what has been called ‘freshers’ flu’.
“It is critical that young people are not complacent about the disease and they take the necessary steps to protect themselves, stay vigilant and seek urgent medical help if they suspect it.
“This is a cruel disease; it does not discriminate and could significantly alter the future outlook for young people if they are not protected or meningitis aware.”