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Parents back vaccine campaign to tackle 'devastating' meningitis

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A group of bereaved parents who have all lost a teenager to meningitis have spoken out about their experiences as part of hard-hitting campaign to boost vaccination among young adults.

The parents are at the forefront of the campaign by charity Meningitis Now to ensure many more young people take up the MenACWY vaccine.

“We all know too well how devastating this disease can be and have seen the worst it can do, destroying young lives”

Michelle Bresnahan

The vaccine has been on offer to all 17 and 18-year-olds and young people entering university aged 19 to 25 since August 2015, as part of efforts to combat a steep rise in infections caused by the highly aggressive strain of group W meningococcal bacteria.

But cases continue to increase in England, rising from 30 in 2011/12 to 210 in 2015/16.

Meanwhile take-up of the vaccine, which also protects against the A, C and Y strains, has remained low - at around a third of those eligible - despite a drive by Public Health England to raise awareness.

Michelle Bresnahan, whose 16-year-old son Ryan died from meningitis in 2010, said she and the other parents involved in the campaign had decided to speak about their pain and loss to prevent others having to go through the same.

“We all know too well how devastating this disease can be and have seen the worst it can do, destroying young lives and tearing apart those who remain,” she said.

”We want to appeal to all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially those who are heading off to university this autumn”

Michelle Bresnahan

“We want to appeal to all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially those who are heading off to university this autumn.

“We’re also calling on parents to ask another parent in their son or daughter’s friendship group to do likewise – the more awareness we can raise the better,” she added.

Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said the charity was “deeply concerned” by the low take-up rate of 33% last year, down from 38% in 2015.

”We have seen a rapid increase in Men W cases across England.. and vaccination is the most effective way of protecting against infection”

Mary Ramsay

“Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers and up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population,” he said.

“Over 17% of all cases of Men W occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk,” he added.

Those who are due to leave school this summer, or who are aged 17 to 18 and not in school – born between 1 September 1998 and 31 August 1999 – are now eligible for the vaccine.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said the vaccination programme would save lives.

“The MenACWY vaccination programme will save lives and prevent lifelong and devastating disability,” she said.

“We have seen a rapid increase in Men W cases across England in recent years and vaccination is the most effective way of protecting against infection,” she added.

 

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