Public Health England (PHE) have recently released estimates which show a sharp decline in the number of Year 9 school students receiving their routine MenACWY vaccine. In the 2019-2020 academic year, just 58% of Year 9 students were vaccinated against MenACWY, compared to 88% in 2018-2019. This means that over 270,000 teenagers are at risk of contracting bacterial meningitis, which can kill in less than 24 hours.
MenACWY vaccine was introduced in the UK in August 2015, replacing the existing teenage MenC booster, to extend meningitis protection against a harmful new strain of meningococcal W (MenW). This strain was more deadly than previous types of MenW seen in the UK and had been rapidly rising since 2009. The majority of teenagers in England are now routinely vaccinated in Year 9, and a small proportion in Year 10. A catch up campaign targeting older age groups is also available. Read more about the MenACWY programme here.
On the 23rd
March 2020, all educational settings in England were advised to close as part of the COVID-19 pandemic measures. As a result, delivery of all school aged immunisation programmes was paused with immediate effect.
University students are at second-highest risk of contracting bacterial meningitis.
Only 11 out of 150 local authorities managed to complete their MenACWY vaccine programme before lockdown commenced – leaving much of the country facing considerable disruption in their vaccine delivery.
From the 1 June 2020, some schools partially re-opened for some year groups, and at this time, some providers began to catch up on incomplete programmes, via both school and community settings.
Linda Glennie, Research Director at Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), said: “Delivery of the school-based MenACWY vaccination programme has been set back by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers are working hard to ensure that all students who missed their vaccination are caught up, so it is vitally important to take up the vaccine as soon as it is made available to gain protection against life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia.”
According to the report
, NHSE-commissioned providers are now working to deliver all missed MenACWY vaccinations, as soon as possible, and no later than August 2021.
While the vaccine coverage rates for Year 9’s saw a sharp decline, MenACWY vaccine coverage for Year 10 students was 87%, remaining relatively unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, since most of these students had already been vaccinated in 2018-2019.
It is not just school based immunisation programmes that have been affected. Recent survey results
from the NIHR-Health Protection Research Unit revealed that, in the early phase of the pandemic, one in four parents or guardians with a child aged 18 months or under were not aware of the national guidance that routine vaccinations should go ahead as normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.