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Unvaccinated students in UK face risk of deadly infection as ‘some tragically dying’

A study showed some 13% of new students have missed vital vaccinations

Ella Pickover
Wednesday 23 August 2023 04:22 BST
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Health leaders have warned students that they could be at risk of deadly infections unless they are up to date on their routine vaccinations.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that every year students get “seriously ill, with some tragically dying” from preventable diseases.

Figures from the UKHSA show that in England some 13 per cent of young adults who could potentially be starting university this year have not had their MenACWY immunisation.

The jab protects against four strains of bacteria which cause meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia).

It is normally given to teenagers in school but those who missed out are eligible to get a free jab with their GP until their 25th birthday.

Those who are starting university are being urged to check their vaccination status to make sure they are up to date with their jabs before mixing with large groups of other students.

The health body is also urging students to be alert to the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia – fever; cold hands and feet; vomiting; confusion; fast breathing; muscle and joint pain; pale, mottled or blotchy skin (this may be harder to see on brown or black skin); spots or a rash (this may be harder to see on brown or black skin); headache; a stiff neck; a dislike of bright lights; being very sleepy or difficult to wake or fits.

“Every year we see new and returning students get seriously ill, with some tragically dying, from what are preventable diseases,” said UKHSA consultant epidemiologist Dr Shamez Ladhani.

“With large numbers of students coming together from around the country and overseas for the first time, and closely mixing, infection can spread easily.

“Ensuring you are protected against these deadly bugs is vital. If you’ve missed out on your Meningitis (MenACWY), HPV or MMR jabs then contacting your GP for the vaccine should be top of your list of urgent things to do before starting college or university.”

Claire Wright, from the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Meningitis can kill healthy people within hours and in the early stages is difficult to distinguish from a bad hangover or more common milder illnesses.

“By taking up the free MenACWY vaccine, students are not only protecting themselves but also protecting others by stopping the bacteria from being passed on.

“For young people who have already been vaccinated it remains important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis because the free vaccine does not protect against MenB, which is the most common cause of life-threatening meningitis amongst this age group.”

A grieving mother also called for students to get their jab.

Lauren Sandell died when she was 18 during her first year at university in 2016 after contracting MenW.

His mother Sharon Sandell, from Woodford Green in London, said: “Lauren was feeling unwell one Thursday evening during her first year in university.

“She thought it was due to stress from settling into university. She returned home on Saturday evening saying that her legs hurt, and that she wasn’t feeling 100 per cent alright. Then Sunday morning she got sick and was visibly shaking.

“We totally thought it was a panic attack and not at any point did I think her life was in danger. I will always be thankful that she was at home with me when she died but the experience of witnessing it will stay with me forever.

“Such a tragic unnecessary end to a life of a beautiful girl who had so much life to live.

“If she had the vaccine, she would still be here today celebrating her 25th year of life. Get the MenACWY jab today.”

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