UK first to offer routine meningitis B vaccination

All babies in England and Scotland will be offered meningitis B (MenB) vaccines from September, as disputes over funding of the programme are resolved.

The Department of Health (DH) has released details of the vaccination plans some weeks after it emerged that a pricing deal had finally been agreed with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) over its MenB vaccine Bexsero, which will be used to immunise infants in the programme.

The scheme makes England and Scotland the first countries in the world to begin national and publicly-funded Men B immunisation, with Bexsero offered to babies at two months with booster shots at four and 12 months.

GP practices will offer the MenB vaccine alongside other routine infant vaccines, said the DH. Bexsero was approved in Europe at the beginning of 2013 and was backed for routine use in children by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) a year ago. It is thought to protect against around 90 per cent of the meningococcal group-B bacteria strains circulating in the UK.

“I’m very proud that we will be able to offer families extra peace of mind with these two vaccine programmes from this summer,” said public health minister Jane Ellison. “The nationwide MenB programme will mean that England leads the world in offering children protection from this devastating disease.”

The health services in Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to follow England and Scotland’s lead and start offering the new vaccine shortly.

The DH has also announced that another meningitis vaccine – GSK’s Men ACWY – will be offered to teenagers aged 17 and 18 in the final year of sixth form and other students aged 19 to 25 who are starting university this year.

The JCVI backed the use of Men ACWY – sold under the Menveo trade name – in March due to rising numbers of meningitis W (MenW) cases, with 117 reported in England last year up from 22 in 2009. A particularly aggressive strain of MenW is causing disease in all age groups but there has been a significant increase in university students.

“These measures will start to save lives straight away and for years to come,” said Sue Davie, chief executive if the Meningitis NOW charity. She cautioned, however, that the announcement does not mean meningitis is beaten.

“Our message is ‘Don’t become complacent about meningitis’ – there are still strains for which there is no vaccine available and there will still be people who are not protected by these vaccine programmes,” she stressed.

“Given that, it’s more important than ever to continue to raise awareness and for people to learn the signs and symptoms, stay vigilant and seek immediate medical help if you suspect the disease.”

Meningococcal bacteria have been the single largest cause of meningitis and septicaemia in the UK for decades, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation. Young children and adolescents are most at risk, and infections lead to death in 10 per cent of all cases and to long-term after effects in a further 36 per cent.

“Each year it costs the NHS millions of pounds in medical litigation, and the long-term costs to government of a severe case can exceed £3 million,” said the charity.

GSK acquired Bexsero and Menveo from Novartis as part of its asset swap deal with the Swiss pharma group which completed earlier this year.

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