Meningitis B vaccine

A new vaccine to prevent meningitis caused by meningococcal group B bacteria has been given the go-ahead to be made available on the NHS for all babies.

Provided that the vaccine can be obtained at a cost effective price, the Men B vaccine will be given to babies as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme.

It's not clear when the Men B vaccination programme will begin, although the Department of Health is working with the vaccine manufacturer, Novartis, to introduce the Men B vaccine into the NHS childhood vaccination programme as quickly as possible.

If and when it launches the vaccine, the UK will become the first country in the world to introduce a national Men B vaccination programme.

What is meningococcal group B bacteria ?

Meningococcal group B bacteria is a serious cause of life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) and the leading infectious killer of young children in the UK.

Around 1,200 people, mainly babies and children, get meningitis caused by meningococcal group B bacteria each year in the UK, with around 1 in 10 dying from the infection. Many of those who survive suffer terrible permanent disability such as limb loss, brain damage and epilepsy.

Meningitis caused by meningococcal group B bacteria can affect people of any age, but is most common in babies and young children.

Read more about meningitis.

The Men B vaccine

The Men B vaccine, called Bexsero, seems to provide good protection, although we can't know exactly how effective it is until it's used routinely in a large population.

There are hundreds of different strains of meningococcal group B bacteria around the world and some tests predict that the new vaccine will protect against almost 90% of the ones circulating in the UK. But it's not clear how this will relate to lives saved or cases prevented.

At which age will children have the Men B vaccine?

Children will be routinely offered the Men B vaccine as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 12 months

Doses of Men B vaccine can be given at the same time as other routine childhood vaccinations, such as the 5-in-1 vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine.

How is the Men B vaccine given?

In babies, the vaccine is given by injection into the thigh.

How does the Men B vaccine work?

The Men B vaccine consists of an inactivated (killed) strain of meningitis B combined with three proteins found on the surface of meningococcal bacteria. Together, the constituents stimulate the immune system to fight future exposures to meningitis B bacteria.

Read more about vaccine ingredients.

Men B vaccine side effects

Like all vaccines, the Men B vaccine can cause side effects, but studies suggest they are generally mild and don't last long.

Almost 8,000 people, including more than 5,000 babies and toddlers, have had the new Men B vaccine during clinical trials to test its safety.

The most common side effects seen with Bexsero in babies are fever, irritability and tenderness and redness at the injection site.

When will the Men B vaccine be introduced on the NHS?

The Department of Health is working with the vaccine manufacturer, Novartis, to introduce the Men B vaccine into the NHS childhood vaccination programme as quickly as possible.

Are there vaccines against other types of meningitis?

Yes, there are already vaccines against the other common strains of bacterial meningitis (A, C, W-135 and Y3), but until recently there has been no vaccine against the B strain.

Since the men C vaccine was introduced in 1999, the disease has been virtually eliminated. Nowadays, there are just a handful of cases of meningitis due to group C bacteria each year.

Can I get my baby vaccinated with Men B straight away?

Men B vaccine is already available on the NHS for a small number of children who are very susceptible to infection. This includes children with no spleen, or those with disorders of a part of the immune system called the complement cascade.

Men B vaccination is also available privately and can be given at any age after two months (up to four doses may be needed if starting at the age of two months). Your GP should be able to advise you about private providers in your area who may be able to offer the vaccine. Be aware the vaccine is expensive; just one dose may cost more than £75.

Read about the benefits of childhood vaccinations.

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