Mother of Ollie Towler Jones, who died after being taken ill at the Latitude Festival in 2014, urges others to get meningitis vaccine
- Credit: Archant
It's three years since 18-year-old Ollie Towler Jones died. His mother wants other young people to ensure they get the vaccine that wasn't available to her son. She told Sheena Grant more.
Every day is a struggle for Jo Towler and Marc Jones but July is especially difficult.
In 2014, their only child, Ollie, fell ill at the Latitude Festival, near Southwold. Just eight hours later he was dead.
Now Jo has joined a campaign by the charity Meningitis Now to warn other parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against the strain of meningitis bacteria - Men W - that killed her son.
Men W infections are historically rare in the UK but since 2009 there has been an upsurge of cases, with a particularly significant impact on teenagers and new university students.
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Because of the infection's virulence, in 2015 the NHS introduced the Men ACWY vaccine for children in school year nine (aged 13-14). It also offers a free 'catch-up' jab to 17 and 18-year-olds and first-time university entrants under 25, who won't have received the vaccine at school. But only a third of those eligible have the life-saving 'catch-up' jab, and cases of Men W are on the rise.
Jo, who lives in Norwich, says: 'It took just eight hours for meningitis to kill my son. He was 18 years old. Myself and Ollie's dad still find every day a struggle. The vaccine that would have saved my son's life wasn't offered routinely in 2014. It is now. My message to parents is please ensure you get your children vaccinated.'
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Ollie, an IT apprentice at a Norwich software development company, was with friends when he fell ill.
'It was July 19, 2014 and Ollie was at Latitude, which he had attended for the last seven years,' says Jo. 'He loved it. There was music and he was surrounded by friends and family, so he always had a great time and looked forward to going every year.
'Ollie had a very late night on the Friday and woke up Saturday morning feeling terrible, which he and his friends put down to a hangover. He was sick and took some painkillers, then tried to get some sleep thinking he would feel better in the afternoon.'
But his condition deteriorated rapidly.
'Four hours later Ollie was found,' says Jo. 'He was purple and unable to breathe or feel his legs. His friends immediately went to get help and the paramedics took over. I was also at the festival and received a phone call to tell me Ollie was being treated by medics. I couldn't believe what I saw. He was transferred by helicopter to Norwich and put into a coma at about 6:30pm. Most of his organs had already failed and at 8.16pm he died. Our only child was gone.
'Not only did I lose my beautiful son but we have lost our future. Our only chance of having grandchildren died that day too. People might think this will never happen to them. I never thought it would happen to my family.'
Ollie is remembered every year at Latitude, where a walkway bears his name. Jo has also had huge support from Meningitis Now. She doesn't want anyone else to lose a child as she has and believes the single most important thing parents can do is to make sure their children are vaccinated.
The Men ACWY vaccine, introduced in August 2015, protects against four groups of meningococcal bacteria: A, C, W and Y. Meningitis Now says it is 'deeply concerned' that only 33% of those eligible have the catch-up vaccine. Its awareness campaign coincides with a similar initiative by Public Health England.
The charity's chief executive, Dr Tom Nutt, praised Jo's decision - and that of other parents in her position - to speak out.
'This is a brave step and a timely reminder to others to make sure young people get the Men ACWY vaccine,' he said. 'Over 17% of all cases of Men W occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first-year students being at particular risk. We are deeply concerned about the low level of vaccine uptake. It's vital that young people and their parents are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine.'
Cases of meningococcal group W have been rising in the UK since 2009, with 210 in 2015-16 compared with 30 in 2011-12. Those who are due to leave school this summer, or who are aged 17 – 18 and not in school (born between September 1 1998 and August 31 1999) are now eligible for the vaccine and should contact their GP practice.