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.
Get the vaccine
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."