The Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson, announced in June a wide-scale immunisation programme which would vaccinate an expected 480,000 university freshers against the meningitis C strain. But last night Department of Health officials admitted that so far only 405,000 doses of vaccine have been supplied by manufacturers.
The initial aim of the scheme was to vaccinate students before they got to university but some students have been told they will have to wait until they arrive, at which point they will already be exposed to the risk. Students are particularly vulnerable because they come from all parts of the country and live in close contact.
The campaign was announced to coincide with the launch of the new meningitis C vaccine which is to be given to babies from October. Work on the new vaccine was accelerated after the number of meningitis cases reached a 50-year high last year. It is being introduced a year earlier than expected. For this winter, however, manufacturers were unable to provide enough of the new vaccine, which gives lifelong protection, to cover all children and teenagers. Ministers decided to offer the old meningitis C vaccine, which gives protection for three years, to students starting university.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said last night: "Every student who needs to be vaccinated against meningitis C will be vaccinated. GPs were asked to request vaccine against known requirement but initial demand for this vaccine outstripped supply ... Up to 500,000 additional doses are being made available from now to the end of September."