Students have been urged to make sure they have been vaccinated against meningitis and other diseases after a study found 1 in 8 new pupils were unprotected.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and leading meningitis charities are encouraging students to make sure they have been vaccinated.

The NHS MenACWY immunisation programme for schools is offered to all pupils in year 9 and 10.

UKHSA vaccine coverage data shows around 1 in 8 new students going to college and university this year remain unprotected against these 4 strains of meningococcal bacteria, each of which can cause long term disability, serious health complications and can be life threatening.

Bournemouth Echo: Meningitis and septicaemia can develop suddenlyMeningitis and septicaemia can develop suddenly (Image: Getty/Vadym Terelyuk)

The latest 2021 to 2022 MenACWY coverage data shows the vaccination rate has fallen to 79.6%, which means that the figure will rise to around 1 in 5 pupils being unprotected when they start college or university in a few years’ time.

The 3 vaccines students should be up to date with before starting university or college include:

  • MenACWY – protecting against 4 common strains causing meningitis and septicaemia
  • MMR – protecting against measles, mumps, and rubella
  • HPV – protecting against human papilloma virus related cancers such as cervical cancer and other cancers of the head, neck and genital areas, and genital warts

Dr Shamez Ladhani, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Every year we see new and returning students get seriously ill, with some tragically dying, from what are preventable diseases.

“With large numbers of students coming together from around the country and overseas for the first time, and closely mixing, infection can spread easily.

“Ensuring you are protected against these deadly bugs is vital. If you’ve missed out on your meningitis (MenACWY), HPV or MMR jabs then contacting your GP for the vaccine should be top of your list of urgent things to do before starting college or university.”

Claire Wright, Head of Insights and Policy at Meningitis Research Foundation, added: “Meningitis can kill healthy people within hours and in the early stages is difficult to distinguish from a bad hangover or more common milder illnesses. By taking up the free MenACWY vaccine, students are not only protecting themselves but also protecting others by stopping the bacteria from being passed on.

“For young people who have already been vaccinated it remains important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis because the free vaccine does not protect against MenB, which is the most common cause of life-threatening meningitis amongst this age group.”

Meningitis symptoms

Meningitis and septicaemia can develop suddenly. Symptoms include a blotchy rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it, fever, headache, aching muscles and joints and a stiff neck. The MenW strain can also cause vomiting and diarrhoea in teenagers and young adults.

Urgent antibiotic treatment and hospitalisation is critical. If you have concerns for yourself or a friend don’t hesitate to seek urgent medical help.