Meningitis vaccine extended to 16 to 18 year olds

Meningitis vaccine extended to 16 to 18 year olds. David Cheskin/PA Wire

Meningitis vaccine extended to 16 to 18 year olds. David Cheskin/PA Wire

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The Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging all 16 to 18 year olds to get a free vaccination that can help protect against meningococcal disease.

Beginning in April, GPs will invite people born between 2 July 1997 and 1 July 1999 to have the MenACWY vaccine. It will protect against four different causes of meningitis and septicaemia – meningococcal A,C,W and Y diseases.

Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Older teenagers are at higher risk of getting Meningococcal W disease (MenW), so you need to get vaccinated to help protect yourself. It will also reduce the risk of you carrying the bacteria, therefore offering better protection to those around you. MenW was generally rare in the UK, but there has been an increase in cases in recent years.

“Even if you have recently had the MenC vaccine, for example in school, you should still get the MenACWY vaccine. It will increase your protection against MenC and provide protection against the three other meningococcal groups.

“The vaccine will be administered in a phased approach so don’t worry if you don’t hear from your GP straight away. We would say, however, that if you are in the eligible age group and have had no communication from you GP by July, contact them and arrange an appointment.”

The MenACWY vaccination programme began in August 2015 for school leavers and first time university students. From January 2016, the vaccination was also made available to 14 and 15 year olds. These groups are still encouraged to get the vaccine, particularly those who are planning to go to university for the first time in the autumn.

Dr Jessop continued: “It is important to receive the vaccine before going to university as those attending for the first time will usually mix with larger groups of people, making them more exposed to various infections or diseases. The best way to protect against meningococcal A, C, W or Y disease is to get the vaccine before you go.”

Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Both diseases are very serious and, especially if not diagnosed early, they can kill.

The early symptoms of meningococcal disease are similar to those of flu, so you need to be able to recognise the symptoms very quickly even if you have been vaccinated as the vaccines offered through the routine immunisation programme do not protect against all forms of the disease.

There are five main groups of meningococcal bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia – A, B, C, W and Y. The same bacteria that cause these serious diseases can be carried in the back of the nose and throat, especially in young adults.

Look out for any of these symptoms:

Fever, cold hands and feet

Vomiting and diarrhoea

Drowsiness, difficult to wake up

Irritability and/or confusion

Dislike of bright lights

Severe headache or muscle pains

Pale, blotchy skin with or without a rash

Convulsions/seizures

Stiff neck.

For more information on the MenACWY vaccination programme visit http://pha.site/MenACWY