"Fresher" students going to university for the first time should make sure they've had the MenACWY vaccine to prevent meningitis and septicaemia, which can be deadly.
The MenACWY vaccine is also routinely offered to teenagers in school Years 9 and 10.
This page covers information for England. If you live in, or are going to university in, other areas of the country, click on the links below:
If you're starting college or university you should make sure you've already had:
- the MenACWY vaccine – which protects against serious infections like meningitis. You can still ask your GP for this vaccine until your 25th birthday, if you missed having it at school or before coming to the UK to study
- 2 doses of the MMR vaccine – as there are outbreaks of mumps and measles at universities. If you have not previously had 2 doses of MMR you can still ask your GP for the vaccine
What is the MenACWY vaccine?
The MenACWY vaccine is given by a single injection into the upper arm and protects against 4 different strains of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia): A, C, W and Y.
The MenACWY vaccine is called Nimenrix.
At what age should teenagers and young people have the vaccine?
Children aged 13 to 15 (school Years 9 or 10) are routinely offered the MenACWY vaccine in school alongside the 3-in-1 teenage booster.
Anyone 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.
If they're still at school, they should talk to the school nurse.
If they've left school (including those in apprenticeships or the armed forces), they should make an appointment with their GP practice.
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.
Students going to university or college for the first time, including overseas and mature students, who have not yet had the MenACWY vaccine remain eligible, as freshers, up to their 25th birthday.
Students should contact their GP to have the MenACWY vaccine before starting university or college. If that's not possible, they should have it as soon as they can after they arrive.
Find out if you can have the MenACWY vaccine with the Meningitis Research Foundation's eligibility checker.
Why teenagers and students should have the MenACWY vaccination
Meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicaemia) is a rare but life-threatening disease caused by meningococcal bacteria.
Older teenagers and new university students are at higher risk of infection 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.
Anyone who is eligible for the MenACWY vaccine should have it, even if they've previously had the MenC vaccine.
The MenACWY vaccine is highly effective in preventing illness caused by the 4 meningococcal strains, including the highly virulent MenW strain.
The dangers of meningococcal disease
Meningococcal disease is rare but very serious. It requires urgent hospital treatment.
It can lead to life-changing disabilities, such as amputations, hearing loss and brain damage.
The MenACWY vaccine was previously recommended only for people at increased risk of meningococcal disease, including people with no spleen or a spleen that does not work properly; for Hajj pilgrims; and for travellers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease, including parts of Africa and Latin America.
Read more about MenACWY as a travel vaccine.
MenACWY vaccine effectiveness
The MenACWY vaccine is highly effective against serious infections caused by 4 different meningococcal groups (A, C, W and Y).
The vaccine contains only the sugar coating found on the surface of the 4 groups of meningococcal bacteria. It works by triggering the body's immune system to develop antibodies against these sugar coatings without causing disease.
MenACWY vaccine side effects
Like all vaccines, the MenACWY vaccine can cause side effects, but they are generally mild and soon settle down.
The most common side effects seen in teenagers and young people are redness, hardening and itching at the injection site, a temperature above 38C, headache, feeling sick (nausea) and fatigue. These symptoms should last no more than 24 hours.
Sometimes, a small, painless lump develops, but this usually disappears in a few weeks.
Who should not have the MenACWY vaccine?
You should not have the MenACWY vaccine if you are allergic to the vaccine or any of its ingredients. You can find out what the vaccine ingredients are in the patient information leaflet for Nimenrix (PDF, 491kb).
You should also check with the doctor or nurse before having the MenACWY vaccine if you:
- have a bleeding problem, such as haemophilia, or bruise easily
- have a high temperature
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
How do meningococcal bacteria spread?
Meningococcal disease is caused by 13 different groups of meningococcal bacteria.
In the UK, the disease is almost always caused by one of 4 meningococcal groups commonly known as MenB, MenC, MenW or MenY. These can be prevented with vaccination.
MenA disease is rare in the UK, but is more common in other parts of the world. It can also be prevented by vaccination.
The meningococcal bacteria live in the back of the nose and throat in about 1 in 10 people without causing any symptoms or illness.
Older teenagers are most likely to carry and spread the meningococcal bacteria.
The bacteria are spread from person to person by prolonged close contact – such as coughing, kissing or sneezing – with a person carrying the bacteria.
Very occasionally, the meningococcal bacteria can cause serious illness, including meningitis and septicaemia, which can rapidly lead to sepsis.
Meningococcal infections can strike at any age, but babies, young children and teenagers are especially vulnerable.
Read more about how meningitis bugs are spread.
Babies, older people and the MenACWY vaccine
The MenACWY vaccine is currently recommended for teenagers as they are most likely to carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their noses and throats.
The MenACWY vaccine protects teenagers when they're most at risk of meningococcal disease. It also stops them carrying and spreading the bacteria to other people.
Vaccinating teenagers should also help protect other people, including babies and older people, against meningococcal disease, including the highly virulent MenW strain.
How to spot meningococcal disease
Symptoms of meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicaemia) can start like a bad case of flu but these rapidly get worse. Early treatment can be life-saving.
Other early symptoms of meningococcal disease can also include:
- severe headache
- neck stiffness
- severe muscle pain
- a temperature above 38C
- cold hands and feet
- drowsiness, difficulty to wake up
A rash may also appear that can develop into a purple, bruise-like rash that does not fade under pressure – for instance, when gently pressing a glass against it (the "glass test").
If you, or a child or adult you know, has any of these symptoms, get urgent medical advice. Do not wait for the rash to develop. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are vital.
Although meningococcal disease most commonly causes meningitis and septicaemia, which can trigger sepsis, it can also more rarely cause other illnesses. These include pneumonia and joint infections (septic arthritis).
Other vaccines against meningococcal disease
A number of bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia, some of which can be prevented through vaccination.
The Hib/MenC vaccine is offered as part of the NHS vaccination programme to all babies after their first birthday.
The MenB vaccine (Bexsero) is offered as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme to all babies at 8 and 16 weeks, with a booster after their first birthday.
Read this NHS leaflet, which gives information about the MenACWY vaccine for pupils in school years 9 to 13 (PDF, 460kb).
Read this NHS leaflet, which gives information about the MenACWY vaccine for new university entrants (PDF, 949kb).
Page last reviewed: 19 March 2017
Next review due: 19 March 2020