One mum’s plea as most school leavers still fail to receive the lifesaving meningitis vaccine

One mum’s plea as most school leavers still fail to receive the lifesaving meningitis vaccine

17 May 2017

  • Mum from London is raising awareness of the MenACWY vaccine after her daughter sadly died from MenW in October 2016.
  • The MenACWY vaccine was introduced for teenagers and young adults in 2015 to stop a rapid rise in a new and particularly deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia (MenW) in the UK.
  • Latest data shows that uptake of the MenACWY vaccine in English school leavers in 2015 and 2016 was low (38.9% and 33% respectively).
  • GPs were asked to contact those eligible but MRF received calls from young people who had not been told. Huge regional variation in vaccine uptake suggests more can be done.
  • Public Health England has this week reminded GPs to invite eligible patients in for their vaccine. 
All parents with a son or daughter in year 13 who is leaving school this year should book them an appointment with their GP for the lifesaving MenACWY vaccine as soon as possible, a bereaved mother warns.

The MenACWY vaccine was introduced in August 2015 to stop a rapid rise in a new and particularly deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia (MenW).

Since then, pupils who are currently in years 9 to 12 should have been routinely offered the vaccine through school and uptake has been as high as 84% in some school cohorts. However, while older teenagers can get the free vaccine from their GP, data released in April* shows that uptake among that group has been worryingly low - as of March 2017 only 38.9% of school leavers in 2015 and 33% of school leavers in 2016 had taken up the vaccine.

Lauren 18 - lost to MenW


47 year old Sharon Sandell from Woodford Green in London said, “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 MenACWY vaccine the week that Lauren was due to start at university in Bournemouth. 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.”





The rising tide of MenW


Figures from Public Health England show that there were 210 cases of MenW in England from July 2015 to June 2016.

The vaccine was introduced for teenagers because they are more likely to carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their nose and throat than other age groups. Young people going on to university are particularly at risk of meningitis and septicaemia because they mix with so many other students and many live in close proximity in halls of residence.

Last year’s supply of the vaccine became available in April, but five months later, by the end of August**, just before many young people would have been starting university, only around 17% of year 13 school leavers had got the vaccine from their GP. Essex was the region with highest vaccine uptake at just 37.9%, but some areas had a third of that uptake, including London (9.9%) and Merseyside (10.5%). GPs were asked to contact eligible patients but the charity Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) received calls from young people who were unsure if they should get the vaccine as they had not been told. The huge regional variation in uptake suggests more can be done. 

Public Health England has this week reminded GPs to invite eligible young people in for their vaccination in the GP publication, Vaccine Update. 


MRF wants to see more young people getting their vaccine and they need to get it sooner. 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.

Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of MRF said, “Our thoughts and condolences are with Sharon and her family. Sadly we know there are too many families and individuals being affected by this MenW strain of meningitis. As with any type of meningitis and septicaemia, it needs to be diagnosed and treated urgently but with this strain the symptoms often do not present in the usual way. In teenagers, early symptoms may only include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. MenW also has a higher than usual fatality rate compared with other strains - and it’s as much as 25% in teenagers. That’s why it’s crucial to get the vaccine to prevent it happening in the first place.”

“We’re grateful to Sharon for having the courage to share Lauren’s story to raise awareness and we appreciate the fundraising efforts of all her family and friends. This will help us continue our work.

“We need all GPs to be playing their part in flagging patients that are eligible for the MenACWY vaccine and we have just launched an online eligibility checker and awareness campaign to make it easier for everyone to be sure who needs to get it. Uptake of the vaccine in people leaving school in the past two years has been low. Anyone aged 17-20 should use our eligibility checker and book an appointment with their GP to get the vaccine if they need it.

“In addition to this age group, anyone who is under 25 and starting university for the first time this year should also be able to get the vaccine.

“Despite low uptake of the vaccine, evidence shows that it is working well and preventing cases in the age groups who are being directly vaccinated. If everyone who is entitled to the free vaccine has it, this will not only protect them but over a few years, it will also help protect the rest of the population through reduced transmission of the bacteria to others.

Celebrity support


TOWIE’s Debbie Douglas is a long term friend of Sharon and wholeheartedly supports her efforts to raise awareness. Debbie said, “I am devastated that Sharon has had to cope with the tragedy of losing her daughter especially since there is a vaccine Lauren could have had to prevent the disease. I can’t imagine what the family must be going through. After Lauren died, I made sure that my son Freddie got the jab as he too is in the high risk age group. I’m supporting Sharon to raise awareness so that other parents know how important this vaccine is too.”

Notes to editors

*Uptake of the MenACWY vaccine in school leavers up to end of March 2017, published 28 April 2017, available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/611731/hpr1617_menACWY-vc.pdf

**Uptake of the MenACWY vaccine in school leavers by August 2016, by region, available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553736/hpr3216_menACWY_VCa.pdf

Media contacts: Sam Williams, 0333 405 6251 / 07875 498047 (out of office hours) samanthaw@meningitis.org / Rob Dawson, robd@meningitis.org / 0333 405 6252


Sam Williams
Media Relations Manager

Hi, I’m Sam and I’m MRF's PR Manager.

If you want to know more about this story call me on 0333 405 626251, out of office hours on 07875 498047 or email me

samanthaw@meningitis.org