An automated emergency vaccine alert for GP’s is being activated on agreement from the Department of Health and Social Care after young people who were eligible for a meningitis vaccine died because the alert was issued in a default ‘off’ setting.
Over a million people could be unaware they should get the lifesaving vaccine.
A type of meningitis vaccine (MenACWY) was introduced in August 2015 for teenagers and young people to stop a rapid rise in a new and particularly deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis (MenW) - a rise that was identified by a genome library funded by Meningitis Research Foundation.
Teenagers who left school year 13 in 2015, 2016 or 2017 needed to get their free vaccine from their GP, but uptake among that group has been worryingly low. Latest data from May 2018 shows that only around 40% of this cohort have taken up the vaccine.
A family from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, whose son tragically died from meningococcal sepsis (MenW), discovered that the software provider EMIS, used by most GP practices across the UK, has an alert that should flag to staff when a patient who attends an appointment is eligible for the MenACWY vaccine, but this alert was released inactive.
Fiona and Gavin Mason’s son Tim, an apprentice electrical engineer, died aged 21 in March 2018. Fiona said, “Tim had seemed a little unwell in early March but felt better and returned to college and work. On the 15th of March, although at work, he felt sufficiently unwell to go to the doctor, who advised him to take a few more days off and rest.
“In the early hours of the morning on 16th we were woken as Tim was violently vomiting and very unwell. My instinct told me something was seriously wrong so we took him to hospital.
“By the time we got to Tunbridge Wells Hospital he had a high temperature and could barely walk. After a long wait he was misdiagnosed with gastroenteritis and sent home at about 8:45am.
“At about 2:30pm his condition got worse and he said he felt like he was dying so I rushed him back to hospital. This time doctors began treatment but it was too late to save his life. He died that evening. It was 21 hours and 15 minutes from visible first symptoms to death.”