The Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging school leavers and first-time university students to get the new meningococcal vaccine which is available from today [3 August].
Through a new immunisation programme, everyone born between 2 July 1996 and 1 July 1997, and first time university students up to the age of 25, will be offered the Men ACWY vaccine.
Welcoming the roll-out of the vaccine, Health Minister Simon Hamilton said: “This vaccination helps protect against four different causes of meningitis and septicaemia – meningococcal A, C, W and Y diseases. We are ensuring it is made available in Northern Ireland now, despite the extremely challenging financial position.
“GP practices will be inviting people born between 2 July 1996 and 1 July 1997 to have the Men ACWY vaccine. The PHA is also encouraging everyone starting university for the first time, up to the age of 25, to get the vaccine. You can arrange this through your GP and it is really important to have it before you start university, if possible, and if not, to have it in the first week of term.
“Even if you have recently had the MenC vaccine, for example in school, you should still get the Men ACWY vaccine. It will increase your protection against Men C and provide protection against the three other meningococcal groups.”
MenW was rare in the UK but there has been an increase in cases in recent years.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, explained: “Older teenagers are at higher risk of getting MenW disease, so you need to get vaccinated to help protect yourself. It will also reduce the risk of you carrying the bacteria, therefore also protecting those around you.
“Older teenagers and those starting university for the first time usually mix with larger groups of people, making them more exposed to various infections or diseases. The best way to protect against meningococcal A, C, W, or Y disease is to get the vaccine before starting university.”
From January 2016, the vaccination will also start to be rolled out to all 14-18-year-olds through the schools immunisation programme and GPs.
It is still important to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia and seek medical help immediately if you, or someone you know, experiences them.
Look out for any of these symptoms:
- Fever, cold hands and feet
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Drowsiness, difficult to wake up
- Irritability and/or confusion
- Dislike of bright lights
- Severe headache or muscle pains
- Pale, blotchy skin with or without a rash
- Stiff neck.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Both diseases are very serious and, especially if not diagnosed early, they can kill.
The early symptoms of meningococcal disease are similar to those of flu, so you need to be able to recognise the symptoms very quickly even if you have been vaccinated as the vaccines offered through the routine immunisation programme do not protect against all forms of the disease.
There are five main groups of meningococcal bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia – A, B, C, W and Y. The same bacteria that cause these serious diseases can also be carried in the back of the nose and throat, especially in young adults.
Public Health Agency