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Meningitis risk for millions as more than half of Britons don’t know which jabs they have had

Millions of people have no idea which jabs they’ve had and their ignorance is putting them at risk of getting meningitis and other serious diseases.

Nine out of ten people in Britain are sure they have been given vaccines at some point in their lives, research found, but more than half don’t remember which ones.

Immunisations are vital for stopping the spread of devastating and deadly infections like meningitis, measles and polio.

And despite the NHS offering all children and young people MMR and meningitis vaccines for free, millions do not know if they’re protected.

Nearly one in ten are not sure if they’ve ever had a jab, or are certain they haven’t.

Experts warn young people are putting themselves and others at particular risk of developing meningitis by not keeping track of whether they are protected.

Only around 40 per cent of teenagers and students are having a top-up meningitis jab, which experts say is putting everyone at a higher risk of catching the life-threatening infection

A study by the Meningitis Research Foundation quizzed 2,000 people about how much they knew about their vaccination history.

Some 55 per cent do not know which diseases they are protected against and 45 per cent have never bothered to ask their doctor.

Parents aren’t keeping track of their children’s jabs, either – only a quarter are certain their child’s vaccines are up to date and 13 per cent do not know.

The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is concerned about people’s ignorance of vaccines.

Only around 40 per cent of teenagers and university students are receiving a follow-up meningitis vaccine which protects against the devastating brain disease.

Between 80 and 95 per cent of people are usually required to receive a vaccine to protect the public from its spread. 

Polio and measles used to be common and disabling or deadly but are now rarely seen in the UK because vaccinations stop people becoming infected. 

Free vaccines are available for babies, children and students 

Chief executive of the MRF, Vinny Smith said: ‘Free vaccines are available not only to babies but at several stages throughout life, such as at school, in adolescence and as we age.’


Vaccinations for various unpleasant and deadly diseases are given free on the NHS to children and teenagers.

Here is a list of all the jabs someone should have by the age of 18 to make sure they and others across the country are protected:

Eight weeks old

  • 6-in-1 vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and hepatitis B.
  • Pneumococcal (PCV)
  • Rotavirus
  • Meningitis B 

12 weeks old

  • Second doses of 6-in-1 and Rotavirus 

16 weeks old

  • Third dose of 6-in-1
  • Second doses of PCV and men. B 

One year old 

  • Hib/meningitis C
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
  • Third dose of PCV and meningitis B 

Two to eight years old

  • Annual children’s flu vaccine

Three years, four months old

  • Second dose of MMR
  • 4-in-1 pre-school booster for diptheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough

12-13 years old (girls)

  • HPV (two doses within a year)

14 years old

  • 3-in-1 teenage booster for diptheria, tetanus and polio
  • MenACWY  

 Source: NHS Choices

Teenagers in particular are offered the MenACWY vaccine because they are the most likely to carry bacteria which cause life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia. 

Mr Smith added: ‘Meningitis and septicaemia are deadly diseases that can strike without warning.

‘Although babies are the most at risk, anyone can be affected at any age.

‘Vaccination is the only way to prevent meningitis and septicaemia and we’d like to see more people aware of the vaccinations available.

‘We encourage everyone to take up the offer of the vaccines included in the immunisation schedule.’

Teenagers are most likely to carry meningitis bacteria 

More than three quarters – 76 per cent – of 18 to 25-year-olds have not even heard of a particularly deadly type of meningitis they may be at risk of – meningitis W.

And teenagers are the age group most likely to carry the bacteria which cause meningitis – the disease can also be caused by a virus but is usually less serious.

Mr Smith added: ‘We know that over a million teenagers and young adults have not yet got their free vaccine from their GP meaning they are unprotected against the deadly strain.

‘This new research shows that a lack of awareness is likely to be a major reason for the low uptake.

‘Teenagers and young adults are the age group that most commonly carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose and throat and they can spread it to others.

Vaccinating teenagers will protect everyone 

‘By vaccinating teenagers, this will not only directly protect them against four types of meningitis and septicaemia, Men A, C, W and Y, it will also stop the bacteria spreading, which over time will offer protection for the whole population.

‘The vaccine has proven highly effective at preventing disease in the age group eligible for the vaccine, but we’re not seeing cases of MenW reduce as quickly as we’d like in the other age groups yet and this could be because so many young people have not yet got their vaccine.

‘We’re encouraging everyone to check their eligibility and book an appointment with their GP for the MenACWY vaccine, to protect themselves and to protect everyone.’ 


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