Life-saving vaccine to protect Jersey teenagers

Thursday 12th November 2015

Meningococcal W (MenW) disease is causing a steeply rising outbreak on the mainland, though it has not yet reached Jersey. A protective MenACWY vaccine will be offered to pupils in Years 10, 11, 12 and 13 in Jersey schools, and at Highlands College, during November.

Cases of MenW disease have risen sharply in the UK in recent years; only 11 were recorded in the UK in 2009, however by 2014 the number of cases had risen to 117. Earlier this year the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended an emergency vaccination campaign targeted at teenagers and young people, the age group where most of the spread of infection occurs.

Dr Susan Turnbull, Medical Officer of Health, said “In August my team offered a MenACWY vaccination to 18-year-olds and in particular to those young people heading off to university, the majority of whom took up the vaccine. Having now secured further vaccine supplies – which are understandably much in demand – I am now urging parents of pupils in school years 10, 11, 12 and 13 to ensure their daughter or son gets protected. Transmission of this particularly dangerous MenW bacterium is now established in the UK. Experience with other infections tells us that it will only be a matter of time before it arrives in Jersey and we see our first case or cases.

“Teenagers are more likely to carry meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats, so giving a vaccine to this age group will directly protect them but also offers the added advantage of reducing spread to others, especially their close family contacts. This MenW strain of bacteria is very aggressive; it has a higher than usual death rate (13%) amongst those who become ill with meningitis and/or septicaemia. With new supplies of the vaccine, we have the means to drastically reducing the risk of it causing a tragedy for a family or families here in the Island.”

Nick Parker, who lost his son Joe to meningococcal disease at the age of six in 1994, campaigns locally on behalf of a meningitis charity. Sadly, his family knows all too well the heartache that a loss from this disease can bring. Nick said “We’re fortunate that Jersey’s Health Department is making this vaccination available so promptly. Our charity, Meningitis Trust, is stressing the importance of young people getting vaccinated as soon as possible. Please don’t ignore this disease threat; for the sake of a quick injection, I would urge all parents of young people in school years 10-13 to ensure their children are protected.”

Dr Linda Diggle, Head of Healthcare Programmes, who co-ordinates the childhood programme of vaccinations in the island, says “The MenACWY vaccines we’re using have been around for many years, have been extensively used around the world and have an excellent safety record. The vaccine cannot cause the disease. Any young person who has had a MenC booster injection in recent years should still get the MenACWY vaccine to ensure they are completely protected against the W strain of disease.

“In August, when we vaccinated 18 year olds and those heading off to university, we saw a number of them come in worried about having an injection, but afterwards, most said it was fine and they went out with a smile on their face. The needle we use is the same size as that used for babies and the whole thing is over within seconds.

“As with all vaccinations, we’d expect some people to have some slight soreness, redness or swelling in their arm at the site of the injection. Occasionally, they may also get a headache, but any after-effects should resolve within a day or two. Vaccination is by far one of the safest things that medicine can offer and, as always, prevention is much better than cure.”

 

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