Chief Medical Officer Dr Ruth Hussey is calling on young people to have the meningitis ACWY vaccine, which is being introduced in Wales from today. This is in response to an increasing number of cases of meningococcal group W disease in the UK.
Based on advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – the national body which advises governments about vaccination – the vaccine will replace the existing meningitis C vaccine, which is given to teenagers and people starting university.
Dr Hussey said: “This vaccine offers protection against meningococcal disease, which is rare, but life-threatening. We are particularly concerned about the rapid increase in meningococcal disease caused by the W strain, which is covered by this vaccine.
“Between the ages of 13-18 you are at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease, so it is really important to be vaccinated to protect yourself. Even if you have recently received the MenC vaccine it is important to get the MenACWY vaccine as it offers protection against the W, A and Y strains as well as meningococcal C disease.”
From today, all students under 25 who are attending university for the first time this autumn will be eligible to receive the MenACWY vaccine. There will also be a catch-up programme for all 13 to 18-year-olds. The catch-up programme will begin with all young people with a date of birth between 1 September 1996 and 31 August 1997 who will be offered the vaccine by their GP from today. Younger people will be invited to have the vaccine either in school or by their GP over the next two years.
Dr Hussey said:
“If you are about to go to university for the first time you should get the vaccine at least two weeks before you go. Contact your GP surgery to organise the vaccination as soon as possible.”
Meningococcal disease is caused by several groups of meningococcal bacteria which can cause meningitis, which is inflammation of the lining of the brain and/or septicaemia, which is blood poisoning.