Meningitis B vaccine 'available from September'

Monday June 22 2015

"All newborn babies in England and Scotland are to be offered a vaccine to combat meningitis B from September," BBC News reports. This will be the world’s first publicly funded vaccination programme for the potentially fatal disease.

What is meningitis B?

Meningitis B is a highly aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis that infects the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is very serious and should be treated as a medical emergency. If the infection is left untreated, it can cause severe brain damage and infect the blood (septicaemia). In some cases, bacterial meningitis can be fatal.

How common is meningitis B?

The charity Meningitis Now estimates that there are 1,870 cases of meningitis B each year in the UK. Meningitis B is most common in children under five years old, particularly in babies under the age of one.

Initial signs and symptoms of meningitis B in babies include:

  • a high temperature with cold hands and feet
  • they may feel agitated, but not want to be touched
  • they may cry continuously
  • some children are very sleepy and it may be difficult to wake them up
  • they may appear confused and unresponsive
  • they may develop a blotchy red rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it

For more information, read about the signs and symptoms of serious illness in babies.

Why is this meningitis B vaccine in the news?

The development of a safe and effective meningitis B vaccine is the culmination of more than 20 years of research and represents a significant breakthrough in disease prevention.

While the vaccine has been available for some time on a private basis, this is the first time it has been made available free of charge.

What do we know about the vaccine?

The vaccine, Bexsero, is thought to provide 73% protection against meningitis B, which should significantly reduce the number of cases. The vaccine can be administered to infants aged two months or older either by itself, or in combination with other childhood vaccines.

The vaccine has been tested in clinical trials involving more than 8,000 people.

In infants, it was found to have similar levels of safety and tolerability as other routine childhood vaccines. The most commonly reported side effects were:

  • redness and swelling at the site of the injection
  • irritability
  • fever