The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is urging school leavers to get vaccinated against meningitis and says the government should launch an urgent social media campaign to encourage them to before fresher’s week begins.
Last year saw a drop in the number of 18-year-olds in England receiving the comprehensive meningitis vaccine, at only a third, compared with 39% the year before. The RCN estimated that 400,000 university freshers therefore did not receive the vaccination.
School leavers receive reminder letters from their GP and in UCAS correspondence but the RCN suggested that these traditional forms of communication might not be effective at reaching young people.
“A targeted social media campaign could save lives,” says Helen Donovan, public health lead at the RCN. “The low take-up is a serious concern as people starting university are particularly at risk. Letters are not enough — it is vital we communicate with young people using platforms they are likely to use.”
The MenACWY vaccination was introduced in 2015 and includes protection against the group W strain of the bacterium. Meningitis caused by this strain often takes longer to diagnose leading to more serious consequences and there has been a sudden increase in its prevalence in recent years.
The comprehensive vaccination has replaced the MenC booster given to year 9 and 10 students and a GP-based catch-up scheme was launched for older students. The campaign focused on school leavers heading to university who are at increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease.
But Donovan said that reaching young people was not easy. “Many will have been away over the summer travelling or working before university.”
She added: “We are urging people to contact their surgeries now and book an appointment with the practice nurse.”