5 actions to take now to protect against meningitis

March 2022

Are you a student, at college or university? Are you a parent, or know someone who is a teenager or young adult? If so, these are five actions you can take now to protect someone you care about from meningitis.

During COVID, some teenagers and young adults may have missed out on routine vaccinations because of illness, school closure, lockdown or simply didn’t see information about when their immunisations were happening.

As people mix more, there has been the threat of a rebound of infectious diseases, including meningitis. So, we are asking you to take 5 actions now: 

1. Check with your doctor if you, your teenager or young adult has had their MenACWY vaccine 

Since 2015, the MenACWY vaccine has been routinely offered to teenagers aged 13 to 15 in the UK. It protects against one of the two most common causes of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland: meningococcal C (MenC).

If you are in the UK and over 14 and under 25, you can make sure you have had your free MenACWY vaccine by checking with your doctor or in your health record (often called the red book). Those who missed the vaccine at school can get it before their 25th birthday by asking their doctor.

Why does this matter? Because whilst everyone should have had these routine vaccinations, the last few years have been anything but routine. Now is the time to check though, and catch up on your vaccinations if you have missed any.

Outside the UK or Ireland and not sure what the routine vaccination schedule is for you? Check online with your healthcare provider or speak to your doctor or healthcare professional.

2. If you’re a teenager or young adult, ask your friends have they had their MenACWY vaccine 

A simple question can make someone take action, and could save their life. Ask them did they have their MenACWY vaccine and, if they’re not sure, encourage them to check by speaking to their parent(s), carer(s) or doctor’s practice. Protect those you care about by having a conversation or messaging them. It’s a quick and easy action that could save their life

3. Understand that the MenACWY vaccine does not protect against all strains of meningitis 

There are two most common causes of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland: meningococcal C (MenC) and meningococcal B (MenB). While the MenACWY vaccine protects against MenC, it does not protect against MenB.

In the UK, since September 2015, babies born on or after 1 July 2015 have been offered the MenB vaccine as part of their routine immunisation schedule.

In Ireland, since December 2016, babies born on or after 1st October 2016 have been offered the MenB vaccine as part of the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule. The MenB vaccine is also available free of charge to people in the UK and Ireland with medical conditions that increase their risk of the disease. 

Outside the UK and Ireland, you can check online with your healthcare provider, or speak to your doctor or healthcare professional. 

For those born before these dates, MenB vaccines can be paid for privately in the UK and Ireland. For some though this will not be an option, or even something they have thought about, so it is vital to still be aware of the meningitis signs and symptoms.

4. Know the meningitis signs and symptoms and do not brush them off as COVID, flu or a hangover 

There have been recent reported cases of MenB cases rising amongst teenagers and young adults in the UK, so, it is vital to recognise the meningitis signs and symptoms and act fast.

Meningitis can, and does, have devasting consequences, including life changing disabilities or, in the very worst cases, death within 48 hours.

In young adults, those symptoms can be:

  • Fever and / or vomiting
  • Severe headache 
  • Limb, joint and muscle pain 
  • Cold hands and feet, shivering 
  • Pale 
  • Breathing fast, breathless 
  • Rash 
  • Stiff neck 
  • Dislike of bright lights 
  • Very sleepy, difficult to wake, vacant
  • Confused, delirious 
  • Seizures (fits)

Very importantly, not everyone gets all these symptoms and they can appear in any order.

If you think a friend or housemate is ill, check up on them regularly, trust your instincts and get medical help immediately if you are worried. Your action can save their life.

5. Share this post and talk about it with your friends, your family and the people who matter to you. 

We want to defeat meningitis wherever it exists. Making people take action is a fundamental part of that. So, we’re asking you to share this post with the people you know on social media, via email or in whatever way works for you (why not do it now?).

And then talk about it with them.

Ask them did they read it.

Ask them did they check if they were up-to-date with their vaccines.

Ask them did they know a stiff neck or a dislike of bright lights can be a sign of meningitis.

Your action may save someone’s life. Do it now.

Looking for more support: we’re here for you

Have more questions on meningitis and septicaemia or need to talk to someone? We’re here to support you on the phone (in the UK on 080 8800 3344 and in Ireland on 1800 41 33 44), via email or by live chat.

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About the author

Elaine Devine
Director of Advocacy, Communications and Support

I’m Elaine and I joined MRF in January 2022. I previously worked for a global research publisher as Digital Communications Director, leading a team of specialists in campaigning, social media, multimedia, PR and digital content (all of which is very similar to what I am now doing at MRF).

I’ve worked in the worlds of research, education and charities for all of my career, experience which marries perfectly with my role at MRF. I’ve won national prizes for my campaign work, written for outlets from The Guardian to academic journals, created podcasts and white papers, ran researcher workshops and presented at more national and international conferences than I can remember. I’m very much looking forward to bringing all of this experience to MRF and seeing what we can achieve as we strive to defeat meningitis by 2030.

Tel: 0333 405 6262