Meningococcal ACWY (MenACWY)

Meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) are rare but life-threatening diseases. They are caused by several groups of meningococcal bacteria – the most common types are A, B, C, W and Y.

Since 2009, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of cases of meningococcal W (MenW) infection in the UK. Young people have a higher risk of getting meningitis and septicaemia from MenW therefore a one-year catch up programme has been introduced offering a MenACWY vaccine to:

  • anyone 16-18 who has left school – who can get the vaccine at their GP practice until March 2016
  • all young people who will be in S3-S6 – who will get their vaccine at school from January 2016 (or at their GP practice in Western Isles).

Questions and answers

What causes meningitis and septicaemia? 

Meningococcal bacteria are significant causes of meningitis and septicaemia. There are five main groups of meningococcal bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia – A, B, C, W and Y.

Meningococcal bacteria live in the throats of about 25% of young people without causing any problems at all. The bacteria can spread to other people through coughing, sneezing or kissing. The MenACWY programme is targeting young people because of the higher risk of the bacteria spreading among young people your age. 

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What are the main symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia?

A full description of the signs and symptoms meningitis and septicaemia in adolescents can be found on the meningitis information page.

Meningitis and septicaemia are very serious diseases that need urgent medical treatment. If you think you’ve got either, get help immediately and make sure your friends know to look out for you and each other.

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How do I do the glass test?

Someone with septicaemia may develop a rash which will not fade under pressure. You can check by doing a ‘glass test.’

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How common is meningococcal disease?

Thanks to a very successful MenC immunisation programme, meningococcal group C disease is now rare. However, since 2009, there has been a large increase in MenW disease across the country, including several deaths among young people.

For people who get meningococcal disease, the effects for the individual and their family are devastating.

Who is eligible for the vaccine?

Since 2009, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of cases of meningococcal W (MenW) infection in the UK. You are more at risk of getting meningitis and septicaemia from MenW as a teenager or young adult, so we are running a one-year, catch-up programme offering a MenACWY vaccine to:

  • anyone aged 16–18 that has left school can get the vaccine at their GP practice from August 2015
  • students returning to school in August 2015 – young people who will be in S3–S6 will get their vaccine at school from January 2016 (or at their GP practice in the Western Isles)

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Why do I need to get the vaccine?

You have a higher risk of getting meningococcal disease because of your age. You need to get immunised to protect yourself as well as to protect others around you.

You may recently have had a MenC vaccine to protect you against meningococcal C infection but this will not protect you against MenW. Having the MenACWY vaccine after getting the MenC vaccine will not only give you better protection against MenC infection, but will also protect you against the other three meningococcal groups (A, W and Y).

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When will I get the vaccine?

If you’ve left school, you should make an appointment with your GP practice to get the MenACWY vaccine now.

If you are planning to go to university, it is important that you make an appointment with your GP practice to get the MenACWY vaccine. 

You can still go to a GP practice at university and arrange to get the vaccine there. But try to get the vaccine before you go – don’t leave it till later.

If you haven’t left school, you will get the vaccine at school from January 2016 (or at your GP practice in the Western Isles).

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Should I get the vaccine before starting university?

Students starting university for the first time are at an increased risk of MenACWY disease because they are more likely to stay in halls of residence and have more close contact with new students, especially during freshers’ week. You are eligible for the vaccine if you are under 25 years old and attending university for the first time. You may recently have had a MenC vaccine to protect you against meningococcal C infection but this will not protect you against MenW. Having the MenACWY vaccine after getting the MenC vaccine will not only give you better protection against MenC infection, but will also protect you against the other three meningococcal groups (A, W and Y).

It is important if you are an eligible university student, including if you are a international student, that you are immunised at least 2 weeks before you attend university to make sure your immunity has fully built up. You should contact your GP practice for immunisation from mid-August. If you did not get immunised before leaving for university you can register with a new GP practice once you arrive and arrange to get the vaccine there as soon as possible, ideally in freshers’ week.

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Do I have to have the vaccine?

It’s your choice, but it’s recommended that all young people aged 14–18 years get the vaccine to protect themselves from very serious illnesses, as well as to help protect others.

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Is the vaccine safe?

Before they are allowed to be used, all medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness. Once they are in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored.

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Does the immunisation hurt? What are the common side effects?

Like all vaccines, the MenACWY vaccine can cause side effects, but they are generally mild and soon settle. Getting the vaccine is like a short sting. The most common side effects for young people are redness, hardening and itching at the injection site, headache, nausea and fatigue. If you feel unwell at any time after getting immunised, you should contact your GP.

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Do I need parental consent? 

You and your parents, or carer, should discuss the information in this leaflet before agreeing to have the immunisation. Parental agreement is always advised, although it is not always necessary. If you or your parents have any questions about having the immunisation, you can talk to your practice nurse or your GP if you feel you need more information about any aspect of the immunisation programme.

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Where can I get more information?

More information about the different meningococcal vaccines (MenB, MenC) is also available on this site. 

You can call the NHS inform helpline on 0800 22 44 88 (text phone 18001 0800 22 44 88). The helpline is open every day 8am to 10pm and provides an interpreting service.

For more information, advice and support about meningitis contact the Meningitis Research Foundation via their website or by telephone (080 8800 3344) or Meningitis Now (0808 80 10 388).

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Last reviewed on 08 January 2016

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