New vaccine to prevent meningitis to be offered to babies

: A new vaccine to prevent deadly meningitis will be given to babies in England and Scotland from 1 September. Antony Thompson/Meningitis Now/PA Wire
: A new vaccine to prevent deadly meningitis will be given to babies in England and Scotland from 1 September. Antony Thompson/Meningitis Now/PA Wire
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Babies across the county are to be offered vaccination against meningococcal group B (MenB) – a disease which can lead to meningitis.

Public Health England (PHE) is hailing the start of a new vaccination programme, which offers young children protection against meningococcal group B (MenB) disease.

From this week (1 September), the MenB vaccination will be added to the NHS Childhood Immunisation Programme in England to help protect children against this devastating disease which can cause meningitis (an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) which are serious and potentially fatal illnesses.

Who will be entitled to receive this vaccine free of charge in the UK?

The vaccine will be introduced into the UK routine programme for babies at 2, 4 and 12 months of age.

Although the vaccine is licensed to be given to 2 month olds as 3 primary doses in infancy with 1 booster dose, the JCVI considered 2 primary doses to be sufficient based on evidence from vaccine trials.

Once the vaccination programme begins, babies who are 3 and 4 months old should also be offered the vaccine. Those aged 3 months will receive 3 doses at 3, 4 and 12 months, and those at 4 months will receive 2 doses at 4 and 12 months of age.

Babies and children who are older than 4 months by the time the vaccine is rolled out will not be offered the vaccine on the NHS. As the vaccine is not likely to be routinely available before September, it is unlikely that babies born during or before May 2015 will be eligible for this vaccine on the NHS.

- See more at: meningitis.org.

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.

In March 2014, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended a national MenB immunisation programme for infants using a three-dose schedule. In March 2015, the programme, using Bexsero® vaccine, was announced.

Life-saving vaccine

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said:

“This vaccine will help to save lives and prevent permanent disability. Meningococcal B disease can be devastating for babies and young children and it has cut many lives short and left young people disabled.

“The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms in babies and young children can include a high fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting and refusing to feed, agitation, drowsiness or being floppy or unresponsive, grunting or breathing rapidly or having an unusual high-pitched or moaning cry.

Meningitis symptoms:

pale, blotchy skin,

a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it,

a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle),

a stiff neck,

an aversion to bright lights or having convulsions or seizures.

Dr Ramsay adds: “We must all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern as the vaccine does not protect against all types of meningococcal disease.

“Be aware of all signs and symptoms and trust your instincts – don’t wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent medical attention.”

Dr Ramsay added: “Bexsero has a good safety record, but Public Health England is also making parents aware of an increased risk of fever when the vaccine is given alongside other immunisations, and the need to purchase infant liquid paracetamol for the two and four month appointment visits.

“It’s important that parents use paracetamol following vaccination to reduce the risk of fever. The fever peaks around six hours after vaccination but is nearly always mild and gone within two days. The fever shows the baby’s body is responding to the vaccine, although the level of fever depends on the individual child and does not indicate how well the vaccine has worked – some infants may not develop a fever at all.

“We know that fever in young infants may cause some parents concern, but it’s important to be aware that it will be short-lived in nearly all cases. The vaccine will go on to help protect against MenB disease during a period when babies and young children are most at risk – we’ve all too often seen the disease result in severe disabilities, or tragically even death, causing devastation to our families and communities.

“The good news is that giving paracetamol reduces the chances of getting fever by more than a half, and also reduces the risk of irritability and discomfort, such as pain at the injection site, after vaccination.”

Landmark moment

Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison said: “This is a landmark moment.

“Men B can be truly devastating and we know the suffering it can cause to families. Now, in our country, every new baby can get this free vaccine to protect them from this terrible disease.”

Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, Christopher Head, said: “We are delighted the MenB vaccine has been introduced as it has been at the top of this charity’s agenda for many years. We hope this vaccine will save many lives and spare countless families the trauma of seeing a loved one die or become seriously disabled because of MenB.

“This vaccine could potentially prevent up to 4,000 cases of meningococcal disease in children younger than 5 years in the UK. However, we must remind the public that there are still some forms of the disease which are not covered by vaccines so it is vital that people are still aware of the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia.”

Chief executive of Meningitis Now, Sue Davie, said: “We’re delighted to reach this milestone and see the vaccination programme protecting our newborn babies in England. This programme will save lives straight away and for years to come. We stand ready to support the roll out in any way we can.”

Ellie Mae’s story

Kelly Mellor’s nine year old daughter Ellie Mae contracted meningococcal disease when she was just 11 months old. She said: “When Ellie Mae first became ill our worlds came crashing down around us. Our beautiful, healthy baby was suddenly purple from head to toe and we had no idea if she would pull through.

“Fortunately for us, Ellie is a fighter but her recovery has not been without trauma. Ellie has undergone 76 operations and lost both her legs and one arm.

“The launch of this vaccine is vital for making sure other families don’t have to go through what we have and I encourage all new mums to take up the vaccination with the other routine ones. Whilst Ellie is alive she is not without health problems and life is a constant uphill struggle.

“Ellie contracting meningitis has been life changing and has not just affected her, but the whole family. We can’t change the past but this vaccine can change people’s futures.”

Further reading on the MenB (meningococcal B) vaccine at www.meningitis.org/menb-vaccine.