Health authorities have issued an urgent warning after figures revealed that one in four London teenagers have not been vaccinated against meningitis.
Data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that just 75.3 per cent of children in Year 10 in the London region had received their MenACWY jab as of August 2022.
The jab protects against the four types of bacteria that cause meningitis, which can cause serious illness and be life-threatening. Symptoms include fever, cold hands and feet, vomiting, confusion, fast breathing and muscle and joint pain.
The jab is usually given to teenagers in school but those who missed out are eligible to get a free jab with their GP until their 25th birthday.
The number of Year 10 students in the capital to be vaccinated against the disease fell by 3.3 per cent in a year, the figures showed, as the NHS struggles to recover from the disruption to routine vaccination caused by the pandemic.
London had the second-lowest vaccination rate of any region in the country, behind the South West (73.9 per cent).
Hammersmith and Fulham had the lowest vaccination coverage of any local authority in England, with under half (48.2 per cent) of children in Year 10 protected against the disease.
Westminster had the fourth-lowest coverage of any local area, with just 54.2 per cent of teenagers jabbed. This was followed by Camden (54.8 per cent).
Dr Shamez Ladhani, Consultant Epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said that unvaccinated students risked “serious illness” or even death if they did not come forward for their jab.
“Every year we see new and returning students get seriously ill, with some tragically dying, from what are preventable diseases.
“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.
He mother Sharon Sandell, from Woodford Green, 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.”
The UKHSA also urged students to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccination status to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella.
The ten areas of London with the lowest vaccination coverage for meningitis were:
- Hammersmith and Fulham (48.2 per cent)
- Westminster (54.2 per cent)
- Camden (54.8 per cent)
- Kensington and Chelsea (62 per cent)
- Harrow (63.6 per cent)
- Islington (64.8 per cent)
- Brent (64.9 per cent)
- Hillingdon (66.2 per cent)
- Hackney (69.1 per cent)
- Lewisham (70.1 per cent)