Coltishall mother urging students’ to take up free meningitis vaccine

Gina Weston with her son Ryan Sweatman who died aged 19 from meningitis.

Gina Weston with her son Ryan Sweatman who died aged 19 from meningitis. - Credit: submitted

A north Norfolk mother who lost two sons to meningitis is urging parents to get their children protected against the deadly disease following a vaccination breakthrough.

Gina Weston's seven-week-old son Joe Sweatman died from pneumococcal meningitis in 1991 and 19-year-old son Ryan Sweatman died from meningococcal septicaemia in 2012 at Sheffield Hallam University.

The call from Mrs Weston, 51, of Church Close, Coltishall, comes as GPs are this week encouraging sixth formers and university students to take up a free vaccination offer against the aggressive and potentially-fatal MenW strain of the disease, which is attacking a rising number of people.

Hundreds of 17 and 18-year-olds across north Norfolk preparing for university or college this autumn are being sent letters about the Men ACWY injection.

It protects against meningitis and septicaemia caused by four strains of the disease Men(ingitis) A, C, W and Y.


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Mrs Weston said: 'Any vaccine against meningitis is a bonus. Although meningitis is quite rare, it is an infectious disease. Because of the close contact students have, it is a dangerous age for the disease.

'Anything that is going to help against anyone losing their children has got to be a bonus.

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'When I heard the vaccine was coming out it was too late for lots of people but it is going to protect so many more. My grandchildren will benefit.'

Although Mrs Weston described the vaccine as a 'step forward' she said people should remain vigilant and watch for meningitis symptoms.

'I hope parents make sure their children get vaccinated. Losing a child is too painful an experience to go through. The vaccines are there so we must use them.'

She said her family's life had not been the same since her sons' deaths.

The new vaccine does not protect against the strains which affected Ryan and Joe but, shortly after Joe's death, one was offered free through the NHS for the type which he contracted. A free vaccination protecting against MenB, which affected Ryan, will be given to babies born in England and Scotland from September.

Mrs Weston and her family, along with the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), are pushing for the MenB jab to be free for anyone.

She has one son, Danny Sweatman, 30, an Aylsham High School teacher, and two daughters, Carly Fryman, 28, and Holly Sweatman, 24, who was Joe's twin.

The family started fundraising in 2012 for the MRF and have so far raised just over £80,000 but they want to raise £100,000.

'We will never stop fundraising in Ryan and Joe's memory,' Mrs Weston said. 'It would be great to see meningitis eradicated but it probably won't happen in my lifetime.'

First-time university students up to the age of 25 are also eligible for the Men ACWY vaccine and, from January, it will be rolled out to all 14-to-18-year-olds through the schools immunisation programme and GPs.

Visit www.meningitis.org and www.justgiving.com/remember/3487/ryan-sweatman to donate to the Sweatman family campaign.

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