The Men ACWY Vaccination

The Meningitis ACWY (Men ACWY) vaccination helps protect young people against meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by four groups of meningococcal bacteria: A, C, W and Y.

Meningococcal disease is rare but very serious and requires urgent hospital treatment. It can lead to life-changing disabilities such as amputations, hearing loss, brain damage and scars.

The meningococcal bacteria live in the back of the nose and throat in about 1 in 10 people without causing any symptoms or illness. Meningococcal bacteria are spread from person to person by prolonged close contact, e.g., coughing, sneezing or kissing someone who is carrying the bacteria. Older teenagers are more at risk of infection because they may be mixing closely with lots of new people in college or at university.


Meningitis is inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation results in pressure on the brain. Signs to look out for include:

  • fever
  • a very bad headache (this alone is not a reason to get medical help)
  • vomiting
  • stiff neck
  • dislike of bright lights
  • rash
  • confusion, delirium
  • severe sleepiness, losing consciousness
  • seizures


Septicaemia is a serious, life-threatening infection that gets worse very quickly. Septicaemia is when bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause blood poisoning which can trigger sepsis.

Sepsis is an overwhelming and life-threatening immune response to any infection and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. For septicaemia, signs to look out for include:

  • fever and shivering
  • severe pains and aches in limbs and joints
  • vomiting
  • very cold hands and feet
  • pale or mottled skin
  • rapid breathing
  • diarrhoea and stomach cramps
  • red or purple ‘bruised’ or blotchy rash on skin that do not fade under pressure. On dark skin, check inside the eyelids or roof of the mouth where the spots may be more visible
  • difficulty walking or standing
  • severe sleepiness, losing consciousness

When is the Men ACWY vaccine given?

Children aged 13 to 15 (years 9 or 10) are usually offered the Men ACWY vaccine in school. The Men ACWY is routinely given alongside the 3-in-1 teenage booster which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and polio. Anyone who has missed their teenage Men ACWY vaccination can still have it up until their 25th birthday.

How effective is the Men ACWY vaccine?

The Men ACWY vaccine is highly effective against meningococcal strains A, C, W and W. The vaccine contains the sugar coating found on the surface of the 4 types of meningococcal bacteria and works by triggering the body's immune system to develop antibodies against these sugar coatings without causing disease.

What to do if you’ve missed the vaccine

Anyone who is unsure about their vaccine status can check with their GP practice to see if they are up to date and fully protected.