New meningitis vaccine to be provided to thousands of teenagers

First-year students to receive new vaccine from next autumn following rise in cases

A new vaccine providing protection against particularly lethal forms of meningitis is to be provided to thousands of teenagers from next autumn.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has approved the introduction of the meningitis ACWY to replace the existing shot protecting against the disease from the next academic year, according to his department.

The new vaccine will replace the current booster dose of meningitis C vaccine given to teenagers in their first year of secondary school.

The move is a response to a rise in cases involved the previously rare W and Y serogroups of the disease. Since 2014, cases of menW have more than tripled in Ireland, with 12 cases reported in 2018. Eight cases of menY and 20 of menB were also reported.


Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), which has lobbied the Minister on the issue in recent months, welcomed the news.


“During the last few weeks of 2018 and first weeks of 2019, there was a higher than normal incidence of meningococcal meningitis reported in Ireland,” said Diane McConnell, regional director of the charity.

“Therefore, the introduction of the menACWY vaccine into the schedule is particularly welcomed because it means that the Irish population will be protected against more types of meningitis and septicaemia.”

A vaccine for meningococcal disease in Ireland was first offered in 2000, covering the menC serotype. Since December 2016, babies have also been vaccinated against menB.

“However, there are not yet vaccines available against all types of meningitis and septicaemia, which is why it’s important for people to remain aware of the symptoms,” said Ms McConnell.

The UK’s National Health Service has offered teenagers and first-year college students a menACWY vaccine since 2015.

13 deaths

Last year, according to the Health Service Executive, there were 13 deaths in Ireland associated with meningococcal disease – eight of which were confirmed. The latest figures show that this year, up to April 11th, six deaths have been reported as associated with meningitis , of which two have so far been confirmed.

Meningitis and septicaemia need to be rapidly diagnosed and treated to maximise survival rates.

Early symptoms usually include fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell, which can be mistaken for something less serious. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than a rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion, but these symptoms are less well known, according to MRF.

MenW can be very difficult to recognise because patients can often present with gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, without the characteristic signs of meningitis and septicaemia, such as a rash.

Meningitis can kill within 24 hours. About a third of survivors can be left with life-changing after-effects, some as serious as brain damage, limb loss, blindness or hearing loss.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.