It has been a challenging year for everyone. Students and staff are returning to campuses around the UK and vaccinations are more important than ever. Everyone over the age of 16 years is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Being up to date with vaccinations is important for all of us, but even more so for students starting university who will be meeting, mixing and living with lots of new people. Universities can be hot spots for measles, mumps, and meningococcal disease as well as COVID-19 as they present the perfect opportunity for infections to spread.
One in five young adults who start university for the first time this autumn will have missed routine vaccines earlier in life that protects against potentially fatal conditions.
It is important that everyone who can be vaccinated takes up this offer as this helps to protect vulnerable people who can’t be vaccinated for several reasons. Being fully vaccinated helps to stop the transmission of infectious diseases and helps protect you, your family, your student peers and lecturers.
Check that you are up to date with all the vaccinations that provide you with the protection you need before you start university.
Anyone aged 18 years or older should have two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to protect them against serious disease and hospitalisation. If you want to know more please read: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-guide-for-older-adults
If you have had one COVID-19 vaccine dose, at least 8 weeks ago, you should arrange to have your second dose as soon as possible. Having the second dose is important for longer protection.
All 16 to 17-year-olds will also be offered the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Advice on when to have the second vaccine dose will come later.
Whilst some people do still get COVID-19 infection after vaccination, their symptoms are usually much milder and they are less likely to have complications. Students who have certain health conditions may be offered a booster COVID-19 vaccination during the 2021 to 2022 academic year.
We are encouraging students to remain vigilant.
- Regularly wash your hands and use alcohol based sanitiser if you can't use soap and water.
- Maintain social distancing where you can
- Wear a mask in indoor public places.
Be prepared to follow the guidance in your university and town or city. Face masks are still required in certain settings. In accommodation keep bedrooms and common rooms clean and well aired by opening windows where possible.
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that is spread by coughs and sneezes. It can sometimes lead to serious complications and in rare cases can be fatal. Measles can be prevented by having two doses of the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine.
The MMR vaccine is offered to all children as a two-dose course which should be completed before they start school.
We estimate that over 25,000 students who never received the MMR jab as children, will start university in 2021. Are you one of them? Anyone who has not had two doses of the MMR vaccine can catch measles. Call your GP practice to check if you are up to date and get the vaccine for free on the NHS.
Mumps is a viral illness that is spread by coughs and sneezes close contact with someone who already has the infection. We saw an increase in mumps activity in 2019 with most cases in young people who had not been immunised. Mumps outbreaks are common in university settings and the best way to protect yourself is to have two doses of the MMR vaccine. It is never too late to get the vaccine. If it’s not clear whether you’ve had both doses or not, there’s no harm in getting an extra dose.
Every university student should make sure they've had the MenACWY vaccine to prevent meningitis and septicaemia, which can both be deadly.
Meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicaemia) is a rare, but life-threatening, disease caused by meningococcal bacteria. It requires urgent hospital treatment. It can lead to life-changing disabilities such as amputations, hearing loss, brain damage, and scars. It can affect anyone at any age.
New university students are at higher risk of the disease than other people of the same age because many of them mix closely with lots of new people – some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their noses and throats.
The MenACWY vaccine can prevent three of the four most common forms of meningococcal disease in the UK and has been routinely offered to young people aged 13 to 15 (school Years 9 or 10) in school, and to some older teenagers by their GP practice. Most freshers that started university in September 2021 will have been eligible for the vaccine as part of these vaccination programmes.
Any university student born on or after 1 September 1996 who was eligible but missed their teenage MenACWY vaccine can still have the vaccine up to their 25th birthday.
Other students, including overseas and mature students, who have not yet had the MenACWY vaccine are eligible, as freshers, up to their 25th birthday.
If you’re not sure, contact your GP practice, to check whether you have had the MenACWY vaccine, and to make an appointment.
Feeling ill – tell someone!
We want everyone to be well and enjoy their time at university but mixing with new people can increase the spread of infectious diseases. Make sure you have registered with a GP before you are ill. Many new students can catch ‘freshers flu’ and need to rest, and can take over the counter pain medication such as paracetamol to help them feel better. If you have symptoms of meningitis or sepsis, measles or mumps you should seek medical advice quickly. You can visit the NHS.uk or nhsinform.scot to check your symptoms or if in England, Scotland and Wales you can call 111 for advice over the phone ( If 111 is not available in your area of Wales is you can call 0845 46 47). In a medical emergency dial 999. If you are unwell, tell someone, preferably someone who can check that you are ok and call for help if you are not. Stay in touch with your neighbours and look out for each other.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection which usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer.
In the UK, the HPV vaccine has been offered to all 12 to 13-year-old girls in school year 8 for over ten years. From September 2019, the vaccine has also been offered to boys in year 8.
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as some cancers of the mouth and throat and some cancers of the anus and genital area.
In time, it is expected that the vaccine will save hundreds of lives every year in the UK. A recent Scottish study has already shown a 71% reduction in pre-cancerous cervical disease in young women. Since the start of the vaccination programme in the UK, there has been a big decline in the number of young people with genital warts.
If you’re a female student and you missed your HPV vaccination when you were in school, you can still get the vaccine for free up to your 25th birthday. Male students who are MSM can have the HPV vaccine up to 45 years of age at sexual health clinics.
It's important to have the full course of the HPV vaccine to be fully protected. If you had your first HPV vaccine before your 15th birthday then you only need one more dose given at least six months after the first to complete the course. If you were 15 years or older when you received your first vaccine, you will need three doses to complete the course.
Speak to your GP surgery and make an appointment to get up to date as soon as possible. If you aren’t sure if you received it, check with your GP.
In addition, cervical screening is routinely offered across the UK to women aged between 25 and 64. The vaccine will prevent around 70% of cervical cancer cases, but screening is still needed to pick up any other cervical abnormalities. The combination of immunisation and regular screening offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer.
What do you need to do?
Not left for university yet? Check the top tips for return to university above
Contact your GP in the first instance. If you aren’t sure what vaccinations you’ve had, check. If your records are unavailable, or you think you have missed some vaccines, make an appointment to have them before you leave.
Already at university?
If you moved to a new city for university and registered with a new GP, they will have your records and check for you.
If in doubt, have your vaccinations and make sure you are fully protected. Being fully vaccinated, means you have the best protection. No vaccine is 100% effective, so you still should watch out for the signs and symptoms of disease and look after your health. Then you can get on with enjoying everything that university has to offer.