Public Health England has published advice on meningitis and septicaemia vaccinations, urging young people to get immunised before starting university.
Young people going to college or university this autumn are being “strongly encouraged” to get vaccinated against a particularly dangerous strain of meningitis.
“There has been a rapid increase in cases of Men W across England”
The MenACWY vaccination programme was introduced last year in response to a large increase in infections caused by a highly aggressive strain of group W meningococcal bacteria.
Cases of meningitis W have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases in 2009 to over 200 cases in the past 12 months, said PHE. The vaccine also protects against the A, C and Y strains.
PHE said GP surgeries had been told to write to all 17- and 18-year-olds – school year 13, born from 1 September 1997 to 31 August 1998 – to encourage them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
In addition, 19-year-olds who missed getting vaccinated last year – anyone born from 1 September 1996 to 31 August 1997 – can also be vaccinated.
PHE said it was also advising anyone aged up to 25 who is starting university to get vaccinated.
Ideally, young people should get vaccinated before term starts – to ensure immunity, noted PHE, but added that students could still consider getting the jab in their university town.
Dr Mary Ramsay
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “Since 2009, there has been a rapid increase in cases of Men W across England, with students particularly at risk.
“We are encouraging all eligible 17 and 18 year-olds who have just left school to get vaccinated - particularly those heading to college or university,” she stated.
Liz Brown, chief executive of the charity Meningitis Now, added: “Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in 10 of the general population. Every UK university could experience at least one case of meningitis among its students within the first term.”