Being up to date with vaccinations is important for all of us, but even more so for students who recently started university. With lots of people in confined environments and-close mixing, universities can be hot spots for measles, mumps, and meningococcal disease as they present the perfect opportunity for the infection to spread.
One in five young adults who went to university for the first time in the autumn will have missed having vaccinations earlier in life that protect against potentially fatal conditions.
It is therefore vital you are aware of the vaccines that can help prevent disease and check you are up to date with yours.
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 at one year old, with a booster offered to children at age three and four months, before they start school.
In 2018, the UK lost its measles elimination status, which means that measles is circulating and we have seen small outbreaks, many affecting young people and adults who missed out on the vaccine when they were younger. There have also been large outbreaks of measles across Europe and beyond.
We estimate that over 25,000 students who never received the MMR jab as children, started university in 2019. 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 or 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 have 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.
New and existing university students 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.
Older teenagers and new university students are at higher risk of the disease 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 2019 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.
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 England 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 is now also being 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.
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, all women aged 25 and over in England are offered cervical screening tests. The vaccine will prevent around 70% of cervical cancer cases, but screening is still needed to pick up any other cervical abnormalities.
What do you need to do?
Contact your GP in the first instance. If you aren’t sure what vaccinations you’ve had, check. If you moved to a new city for university and have registered with a new GP, they will have your records and can check for you.