Should my teenager have the free meningitis vaccine?

Teenager getting vaccinated

The uptake for a vaccine that stops a new and deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia isn't reaching enough teenagers, leaving them at risk of catching the disease at university

A meningitis vaccine that could save lives isn't being given to enough children.

Introduced in 2015, the vaccine is designed to halt the rapid rise of a new and particularly deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia known as MenW.

Pupils who are currently in years 9 to 12 should be routinely offered the vaccine through school, and uptake has been as high as 84% in some areas. But older teenagers, who must request the free jab from their GPs, have a worryingly low uptake, with only a third of those leaving school having had the vaccine in 2016. All parents with a son or daughter in year 13 who is leaving school this year are advised to book them an appointment with their GP for the lifesaving vaccine as soon as possible.

Sharon Sandell lost her daughter to the strain of meningitis last year, after stocks at her GP surgery ran out before she could be vaccinated. Sharon's now campaigning to raise awareness of the issue.
Lauren had only been at university a week and a half before she became ill. Her symptoms were nothing that anyone would run to A&E with: headache, vomiting and some aches and pains
“We lost our beautiful daughter Lauren to meningococcal W meningitis and septicaemia in October. She was just 18 years old. I only heard about the vaccine the week that Lauren was due to start at university. Our GP surgery said that they did not have enough of the vaccine – so Lauren was told she’d have to wait, as they needed two weeks’ notice to get it.

“Lauren went to university without the jab, and she had only been there a week and a half before she became ill. Her symptoms were nothing that anyone would run to A&E with: headache, vomiting and some aches and pains. Just 48 hours after the first symptoms she was extremely ill with life threatening septicaemia. The disease took our daughter’s life very quickly. I’m encouraging all parents with a son or daughter in year 13 this year to contact their GP and book their free MenACWY vaccine now to prevent this happening to them too.”

Anyone starting university this year needs to have the vaccine at least two weeks before term begins – but all eligible young people should have it as soon as possible, whether starting university or not.

It's especially important for teenagers to have the vaccine, as they are more likely than any other age group to carry the bacteria responsible for the disease at the back of their nose and throat. This, coupled with the close proximity of living in halls of residences, means they are particularly at risk of meningitis and septicaemia.

It’s quick and easy to find out if you or someone in your family is entitled to the free vaccine – go here to check.