The UK Department of Health has announced that it will work to introduce the meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine into the childhood vaccination programme – But to what impact?
Officials made the announcement following independent advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The JCVI, the Government’s vaccine experts, says evidence shows that the Bexsero® vaccine is effective in preventing MenB in infants and should be rolled out, subject to it being made available by the manufacturer at a cost-effective price.
The Department of Health will start negotiations with Novartis, which produces the only licensed vaccine, as soon as possible.
JCVI experts have recommended adding the vaccination to the primary childhood programme meaning that, if plans progress, infants will be immunised starting at two months of age.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor John Watson said: Infants under one year of age are most at risk of MenB and the number of cases peak at around five or six months of age. With early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment, most make a full recovery. But it is fatal in about one in ten cases and can lead to long-term health problems such as amputation, deafness, epilepsy and learning difficulties.
“We will now be working closely with Novartis in the coming months and if negotiations are successful, we hope to work with the other UK health departments to introduce a vaccine to prevent MenB as quickly as possible. This would make the UK the first country in the world to implement a nationwide vaccination programme.”
Professor Andrew Pollard, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford said: MenB disproportionately affects babies and young children and can be devastating. After very careful consideration, JCVI concluded that use of the new vaccine would reduce cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia and lead to a reduction in deaths, limb amputations and brain injury caused by the disease.
“The JCVI published its recommendation to the UK health departments that if the new vaccine can be purchased at a low price and is therefore cost effective for the NHS, it should be used in the routine immunisation programme for babies in the UK to prevent disease.”
Christopher Head, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation said: “We are delighted that the JCVI have recommended vaccinating all babies against this most feared and deadly disease.
It’s a wonderful outcome which will save lives and spare countless families the trauma of seeing a loved one seriously disabled by the devastating after effects of MenB. We pay tribute to the people who have suffered from this illness, whose bitter experience has helped demonstrate the compelling case for prevention.”
Meningitis Now, the UK’s largest meningitis charity, and its supporters welcomed the news after months of lobbying, and desperately hope negotiations will be swift.
The charity’s latest figures suggest that 675 Meningitis B cases in the UK could have been prevented since the vaccine was licensed for use in January 2013.
Meningitis Now founder Steve Dayman MBE, who launched the UK’s meningitis movement after losing his baby Spencer to Meningitis B in 1982, said: “This is the most monumental announcement in the fight against the disease in the 31 years I have campaigned to eradicate meningitis.
“It is the decision we’ve pushed for, to have the Meningitis B vaccine given free to all infants. There is no doubt that it will save thousands of lives and spare survivors and their families the pain of living with life-changing after-effects.
“We thank our supporters for their determined campaigning and the JCVI for listening to our arguments on the true burden of this disease.”
The UK has one of the highest Meningitis B incidence rates in the world – affecting an average of 1,870 people each year and kills in hours.
Anyone can get the strain, with one in 10 people affected dying and one in three survivors suffering life-long after-effects. It kills more children under five than any other infectious disease in the UK.
Meningitis Now chief executive Sue Davie said: “We are thrilled the JCVI listened to our arguments, including the disease’s impact on the whole family, survivors’ quality of life and true burden of after-effects.
“While this is a fantastic leap forward, there is still much work to do because there still aren’t vaccines for all forms of meningitis.
“We all must remain vigilant to the disease’s symptoms and those affected must get the support they need.”
Bexsero is the first Meningitis B vaccine and babies will need three doses.
It was created using a new process ‘reverse vaccinology’ and will cover up to 88 per cent of strains.
The EU licensed Bexsero for use in Europe in January 2013 and has been available to buy privately since December costing up to £600. A recent Meningitis Now and Mumsnet survey revealed two in three parents could not afford to immunise their child.
There are still several deadly forms of meningitis such as Group B Streptococcal, which do not have vaccines. Meningitis Now’s Beat it Now! campaign to bring in the vaccine saw a 36,500-name petition calling for the vaccine on the NHS, delivered to the Department of Health.