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The importance of the MMR Vaccine when starting university

As a new university term starts, Jessica Jackson, Specialist Community Public Health Research Nurse at the University of Derby, talks about the importance of students ensuring they are fully protected from highly infectious viral illnesses.

By Jessica Jackson - 17 September 2019

Universities in England have recently seen an increase in outbreaks of measles, mumps and meningococcal disease cases. With a lot of people mixing in close confined spaces, universities become hotspots for these infections to spread. If you are a young adult who has not had two doses of the MMR vaccine or the MenACWY vaccine as a teenager, then you are particularly vulnerable. Public Health England have recently published a toolkit providing guidance and assets for universities to communicate to new and existing students the importance of the MMR and MenACWY vaccination.

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can sometimes lead to serious complications and can be fatal in very rare cases. Measles can be more severe in young people and adults, often leading to hospital admissions. It starts with cold-like symptoms and sore red eyes followed by a high temperature and a red-brown blotchy rash.

What is Mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection and although, complications are rare, they can include swelling of the ovaries, swelling of the testes, aseptic meningitis and deafness.

Mumps is recognised by the painful swellings at the side of the face under the ears, however more general symptoms often develop a few days before the face swells. These symptoms include: earache, joint pain, feeling sick, dry mouth, mild abdominal pain, feeling tired, loss of appetite and a high temperature.

MMR Vaccination

The best way to protect yourself against measles and mumps is to have two doses of the MMR vaccine.

The first dose of MMR is offered to all children aged one and the second dose is offered at three years and four months. However, some students of university/college age may have missed out on their MMR when they were younger; this is because the MMR vaccine uptake was as low as 80% in 2003. This means that many young people remain unprotected and this is thought to be why we are seeing outbreaks in young people over the age of 15.

Why has uptake in the vaccine previously been low?

There are a number of reasons why parents may have chosen not to allow their child to have the MMR vaccine. In 2003 there was a rise in conflicting information. Public Health England address these concerns previously raised below:

Vaccines do not cause autism

Although there have been concerns in the past that vaccines that contain thiomersal can cause autism, there's no scientific evidence that this is the case.

Vaccines do not contain mercury

Thiomersal is a preservative that contains small amounts of mercury. It is used to prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi in the vaccine. Thiomersal is no longer used in any of the vaccines routinely given to babies and young children in the NHS childhood immunisation programme. It is also no longer used in any of the vaccines routinely given to adults in the UK.

Vaccines cannot cause disease in healthy people

Live vaccines (also called attenuated or weakened vaccines) contain viruses or bacteria that have been weakened, but not destroyed, in a laboratory. The viruses within live vaccines cannot cause disease in healthy people, but can still produce a strong immune response.

Vaccines cannot overload your immune system

As soon as a baby is born, they come into contact with large numbers of different bacteria and viruses every day. Their immune system is designed to cope with this, a child's immune system is not overloaded by the childhood vaccination programme. Studies have shown there are no harmful effects from giving several injections of vaccines in one go.

It is never too late to get the vaccine

There are no risks to your health if you get an extra dose and is available for free to anyone who has not received both doses as a child. If you are unsure whether you are up to date then contact your GP to check. If you haven't had two MMR doses, they you should arrange a free catch up vaccination as soon as possible.

About MenACWY vaccine and meningococcal disease

The MenACWY vaccine protects against meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Meningitis and septicaemia can develop suddenly and can kill or leave people with life-changing disabilities and health problems. Symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia include: a blotchy rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it, fever, aching muscles and joints and a stiff neck. Higher education students, particularly freshers, are known to be at increased risk of meningitis and septicaemia.

The MenACWY vaccine is the best form of protection against these deadly diseases.

The MenACWY vaccine is available free to students who are going to university for the first time up until their 25th birthday. It is given by a single injection into the upper arm and protects against four different kinds of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and septicaemia: A, C, W and Y. It is vital for students to register with a GP and take up the vaccination as soon as possible. You can book an appointment to get the MenACWY vaccine via your GP.

If you experience any of the symptoms discussed call NHS 111 or contact your GP for immediate advice.

Find out more about vaccination:

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About the author

Jessica Jackson

Jessica Jackson
Research Nurse

As a Research Nurse, Jessica Jackson conducts primary and secondary research for the Health and Social Care Research Centre. She is also an academic advisor for Public Health England and an Associate Academic for the University of Derby Online.

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