Press release

Freshers urged to get meningitis and septicaemia jab

New figures show less than a fifth of young people have received the MenW vaccine so far this year.

Someone being vaccinated.

School leavers, particularly those going to university or college this month, are being strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease after figures released today (Monday 19 September) showed less than a fifth of young people have received the vaccine so far this year.

Last month, Public Health England (PHE) advised all school leavers, but especially ‘freshers’, to get the jab from their GP to protect against this potentially deadly disease. By the end of August, only 17% of all 18 year olds leaving school (not just those going on to university) had been vaccinated, according to data from GP surgeries.

PHE is targeting new students who are at greatest risk because they mix closely with large groups of new people, some of whom unknowingly carry the bacteria, enabling it to spread more quickly. With freshers’ weeks about to get underway, PHE is renewing the call for teenagers to get this highly effective, potentially life-saving injection which protects against group W meningococcal disease (MenW). They can get their jab from their GP, either at home, or where they are studying.

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in cases of this highly aggressive strain of MenW, with one in 10 cases resulting in death. In 2009 to 2010 there were in total only 22 cases in all children and adults, but this rose to 209 in 2015 to 2016, up from 176 the previous year. MenACWY vaccination of school leavers was introduced last summer, and a slight drop in cases has been seen among those aged between 15 and 19 (in contrast to other age groups), falling from 25 last year to 20 this year. The total number of deaths, across all age groups, has risen from around 4 a year up until 2012 to 22 deaths in 2014 to 2015.

There have been no recorded MenW cases in young people who received this vaccine, which will also help protect against 3 other strains:

  • MenA
  • MenC
  • MenY

Anyone infected by these bacteria can develop meningitis (infection and inflammation of the lining of the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning), which can develop suddenly and progress rapidly. Early symptoms include:

  • headache
  • vomiting
  • muscle pain
  • fever
  • cold hands and feet

Survivors are often left with life-changing disabilities like hearing loss, brain damage and loss of limb. The vaccine not only protects those vaccinated, but it helps control the spread of the disease in the wider population. PHE has been working with higher education institutions and meningitis charities to raise awareness of the vaccine, with new students being targeted at freshers’ fairs, student unions and in halls of residence.

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE, said:

We’ve introduced this vaccine because of a rapid increase in cases of MenW across England, with new students particularly at risk. This vaccination is highly effective and can save lives and prevent devastating, lifelong disability.

It’s only a month since we first made our appeal to these teenagers, so we know many will still be making arrangements to get vaccinated. But I strongly urge those who haven’t done so to get their injection now. If you’re not registered with a GP yet at university, get registered and get your jab.

New students should be alert to the signs and symptoms and should not wait for a rash to develop before seeking medical attention urgently. Students are also encouraged to look out for their friends, particularly if they go to their room unwell.

Linda Glennie, Head of Research at Meningitis Research Foundation, said:

In the first few days of university, exposure to the bacteria that cause meningitis increases dramatically. It is vital that new students get this vaccine now to protect themselves and to stop the spread to others.

Liz Brown, CEO at Meningitis Now, said:

Recognising that students are about to move their universities of choice means that their chances of getting vaccinated at their home GP may be lost; this doesn’t mean they should forget about it. The vaccine is available via the university health service, it’s still free and it should be a priority. I would call on young people not to miss out on a vaccine that could save their life.

PHE infections press office


  1. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook:
  2. For interview bids contact Robert Westhead at or 020 7654 8075 or Anushka Naidoo at or 020 8327 7004.
  3. For urgent media enquiries out-of-hours, call the duty press officer on 020 8200 4400.
  4. Spokespeople: Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE and Dr Shamez Ladhani, Consultant in Immunisation at PHE.
  5. The data relates to all school leavers, half of whom do not go to university and are not being specially targeted for vaccination, so actual uptake among students will be higher.
  6. For case studies, contact Meningitis Now or the Meningitis Research Foundation.
  7. In August, GPs wrote to all eligible 17 and 18 year olds (those in school year 13, born between 1 September 1997 and 31 August 1998). Anyone in this age group is advised to get the vaccination, but particularly those starting university. Anyone who missed getting vaccinated last year (19 year olds born between 1 September 1996 and 31 August 1997) is also eligible. PHE is also advising anyone aged up to 25 who is starting university to get vaccinated by their GP.
  8. PHE first appealed to young people to get vaccinated on 16 August this year.
  9. In March 2015, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reviewed the MenW outbreak in detail and concluded that this increase was likely to continue in future years unless action is taken. It advised that 14 to 18 year olds should be immunised against meningococcal group W (MenW). The vaccination programme was announced in June 2015. On the JCVI recommendation, the MenACWY vaccine is also now given through schools to pupils aged 14 (school year 9).
  10. For further information about the MenACWY vaccination, see the NHS Choices website.
  11. The data is published on Monday in PHE’s Health Protection Report, a weekly digest of health protection related news and surveillance.
Published 19 September 2016