Public health experts at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are calling for an urgent targeted campaign on social media platforms to reach school leavers who may have missed a key meningitis jab.
Nurses are urging new students to make appointments to get the meningitis vaccine as many remain unprotected only weeks before they start university.
As part of the new programme since 2015, school leavers should receive a reminder letter from their local GP, but many miss these warnings and the RCN is calling for other forms of communication to be used with the at-risk group.
‘A targeted social media campaign could save lives,’ said RCN public health lead Helen Donovan. ‘The low take-up is a serious concern as people starting university are particularly at risk. Letters are not enough – it’s vital we communicate with young people using platforms they are likely to use.’
Public Health Wales has led the way by launching its own Snapchat capaign, making ‘filter’ images available to young people to overlay on the pictures they send on the app.
‘Snapchat is an important channel for engaging with young people, but it can be confusing to those who don’t use it,’ their website said.
Links are provided on their website to guides for those uncertain how filters work.
Young people can get the vaccine at GP surgeries, often in a dedicated vaccination clinic which often will have a shorter waiting list.
New university students are particularly at risk as they enter shared accommodation, possibly with other students from all over the world.
Only one third of school leavers received the appropriate jab last year, meaning 400,000 new university students moved into accomodation at a higher risk.
The newer meningitis vaccine, introduced in 2015, incorporates protection against the increasingly common W strain for the first time.
According to official figures, there has been a rapid increase in MenW cases across England, increasing from 22 cases in 2009-10 to 210 in 2015-16.
School children who previously received the meningitis C vaccine require the extra catch-up jab.
Cases of MenW have been increasing, with 80 MenW cases between January and March 2017, up by 11% on the same period in 2016.
MenW can be harder to spot due to symptoms less traditionally associated with meningitis, including diarrhoea and vomiting.