A vaccine against meningitis B will be available to all babies in the UK after the government agreed a deal with drug manufacturers.
The vaccine, which prevents meningitis caused by meningococcal group B (MenB) bacteria, will be added to the national childhood immunisation programme and is expected to be rolled out from the autumn.
Last year the government’s independent vaccine experts, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), found evidence that Bexsero was effective in preventing MenB in infants.
“We will be the first country in the world to have a nationwide MenB vaccination programme”
Following negotiations, the government has now agreed a price with manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline for Bexsero, which is currently the only licensed MenB vaccination.
Children will receive the vaccine from when they are two months old, followed by another at four months and a booster at 12 months.
The JCVI has also advised that when the programme starts there should be a one-off, catch-up programme for babies aged three and four months of age.
The Department of Health said it expected the vaccine to be available for children from September.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the deal meant the UK would be the first country to have a nationwide MenB vaccination programme.
“MenB can be severely disabling or fatal, especially in babies and young children. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, so I am delighted that we have reached an agreement with GSK to supply the vaccine,” he said.
“The new meningitis B vaccine for babies will reduce the number of cases in early childhood and ease the burden of the disease for the NHS”
“I am very proud that we will be the first country in the world to have a nationwide MenB vaccination programme, helping to protect our children from a devastating disease,” added Mr Hunt.
Professor Andrew Pollard, chair of the JCVI, said: “[The committee] anticipates that introduction of the new meningitis B vaccine for babies will reduce the number of cases in early childhood, ease the burden of the disease for the NHS and defend the health of the nation’s children.”
Around 1,200 people, mainly babies and children, get meningitis caused by the meningococcal group B bacteria each year in the UK, with around one in 10 dying from the infection.
Meningitis charities welcomed the announcement. Chris Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “We are delighted that vaccinating all babies against this devastating disease is now within sight.”
Meanwhile, Sue Davie, chief executive of Meningitis Now, said: “This is the news we have been waiting for.”
“To know that babies will be protected against MenB is fantastic and another great step forward in our fight against meningitis,” she added.