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GPs to lead catch-up campaign offering meningitis booster vaccination to university entrants

GPs will be tasked with ensuring all young adults planning to go to university are offered a booster dose of meningococcal serogroup C conjugate (MenC) vaccine as part of a limited catch-up campaign from next year.

The catch-up programme aims to get young people who have missed out on the new teenage MenC booster protected by the time they head off to university campuses, where meningitis outbreaks have tended to concentrate.

Under a raft of changes to immunisation schedules announced recently, GPs will offer rotavirus vaccination in children under four months from July and flu vaccination in all two year olds and shingles vaccination for people aged 70 years from September.

GPs will also no longer be required to give infants a four-month MenC booster from June, while teenagers will start receiving a booster dose at 14 years through schools from September.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has also recommended a GP-led programme ensuring that any young people under 25 who have been accepted for university should receive the booster dose. This would include individuals from the birth cohorts 1992/93 to 1998/99 who are entering higher education for the first time.

The Department of Health has decided to implement the catch-up from mid-August 2014. A spokesperson for NHS England said the payment method for the new service had not yet been arranged.

A letter from NHS England and Public Health England chiefs on changes to the MenC schedule states: ‘From mid-August 2014, there will be a catch-up programme of limited duration – possibly up to five years – to offer the vaccine to first-time university entrants under the age of 25 years, ie those who will not have been vaccinated at around 14 years under the revised schedule.’

‘This programme will be delivered mainly through primary care. To ensure time for a full immune response, young people should be vaccinated no later than two weeks before departing from university. Starting the programme in mid-August 2014 will ensure that young people are immunised before they leave for university.’

Minutes from February’s JCVI board meeting state: ‘As studies had shown that the prevalence of carriage of mengingococcal bacteria increased sharply within the first few weeks of entry to university, a booster dose of MenC conjugate vaccine would be most effective if given prior to entry to university and may be ineffective if given after entry to university. The booster dose should therefore be offered following acceptance to university but before first entry to university.’

Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC’s clinical and prescribing subcommittee and a GP in Middlesbrough, said: ‘We won’t know who has been accepted to universities, so ultimately there’s going to be a big responsibility on people to make sure they make arrangements for themselves.’

‘Logicially, this would be something recommended as part of the university acceptance process. People will need to be advised that they should go their GP and request [the booster] because otherwise we’re not going to be able to deal with it.’

He added: ‘The immunisation schedules are very complicated anyway - we’ve got flu vaccinations for children coming in soon and all these things are making the immunisation workload very crowded.

‘Of course we want [students] to have it before they go and get exposed to these risks at university, but there’s going to have to be some pragmatic solutions. There needs to be a flexible way of doing this.’

A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘Public Health England are developing a vaccination strategy for young people who are to go to university and may need a MenC booster.’

‘A price will be set once the strategy and associated funding has been agreed between Public Health England and NHS England.’


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