CHARITY MENINGITIS NOW are urging young people to take up a potentially lifesaving vaccination to protect against the disease.
The latest Government figures on the uptake of the routine school-based MenACWY teenage vaccination show an increase from 58.3% of those eligible to receive it in 2019-20 to 76.5% last year.
Whilst the charity has welcomed the increase in take up the figure is still not back up to the pre-COVID levels of around 88% and it is concerned that many young people are leaving themselves at risk.
Meningitis Now chief executive, Dr Tom Nutt, said: “It’s good to see these figures moving in the right direction and more of our young people getting protected against MenACWY through the programme.
“Although coverage has improved significantly since last year it is still not back up to pre-pandemic levels and there will be many who are not taking up these potentially lifesaving vaccinations.
“I would urge everybody to take advantage of the MenACWY vaccination when it is offered – as we know vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against the devastation that meningitis can bring.
“Of course, school attendance rates were lower than normal last year due to the pandemic, which will have had an impact on these figures. As we hopefully start to emerge from this pandemic I’m hopeful we can see further improvement in these rates and in the protection of our young people.”
The latest data, contained in the UK Health Security Agency’s Meningococcal ACWY (MenACWY) vaccine coverage for the NHS adolescent vaccination programme in England, academic year 2020 to 2021, also shows uptake varying between different areas – from 34.8% in Hillingdon to 98.2% in West Berkshire and Herefordshire.
Dr Tom Nutt, added: “Research has shown that up to a quarter of 15 to 24-year-olds carry the bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the back of their throats compared to one in 10 of the general population.
“Overall we estimate that up to half a million under-25s may have missed this important vaccination. If that’s you – contact your GP and see if you can get up to date.
“And very few young people will have been vaccinated against MenB, which is the strain that causes the most cases of bacterial meningitis in the UK.
The early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to ‘flu, tummy bug or a hangover and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stomach cramps and fever with cold hands and feet. More specific signs and symptoms include fever with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, confusion, pale blotchy skin, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and a rash which doesn’t fade under pressure.
If meningitis is suspected seek urgent medical attention.
Meningitis Now has free information for parents and young people and lifesaving Signs and Symptoms cards. Find out more at www.MeningitisNow.org