Immunisation experts have advised ministers that 14-18-year-olds should be offered vaccination to prevent the transmission of meningococcal group W (MenW) disease.
The Department of Health announced today that it had accepted the view of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, and was now planning the implementation of a combined immunisation programme using the quadrivalent MenACWY conjugate vaccine.
“We have seen an increase in MenW cases this winter caused by a highly aggressive strain of the bug”
MenW was discussed at the independent advisory committee’s latest meeting on 4 February 2015.
The committee’s subsequent advice to ministers follows a Public Health England report showing a continuing rise in cases of MenW since 2009.
While the number of MenW cases and overall risk remains very low, there has been an increase in prevalence with 117 cases last year.
Previously, vaccination against MenW disease was only available for groups at increased risk of infection, such as those with splenic dysfunction, and for travel to certain parts of the world.
JCVI chair Andrew Pollard said there had been an increase in MenW cases this winter caused by a “highly aggressive strain of the bug”, and that this increase was likely to continue in future years “unless action is taken”.
“We have therefore advised the Department of Health to implement a vaccination programme for teenagers as soon as possible which we believe will have a substantial impact on the disease and protect the public’s health,” he said.
John Watson, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “We accept JCVI’s advice for an immunisation programme to combat this devastating disease.
“We are working with NHS England, Public Health England and the vaccine manufacturer to develop a plan to tackle the rising number of MenW cases,” he said.
“It’s crucial that we all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of the disease”
Dr Shamez Ladhani, a paediatric infectious disease Consultant at Public Health England, noted that MenW was rare, but warned that it could be life-threatening.
He said PHE was urging health professionals to be “mindful” of the increase in MenW disease and “maintain a high index of suspicion across all age groups”.
“Early recognition and effective treatment with antibiotics for patients with invasive MenW disease can be life-saving,” he said.
MenW cases caused by the emergence of a particularly virulent strain have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases confirmed in 2009 to 117 confirmed in 2014.
Latest figures for January 2015 show that there were 34 laboratory-confirmed MenW cases in England, compared to 18 in January 2014 and 9 in January 2013.
Six meningococci serogroups – A, B, C, W, X, and Y –are responsible for most meningitis. For decades, group B has been the main serogroup responsible for over 90% of meningococcal disease, although incidence has been falling since 2000.
Group C was also common until the MenC vaccine was introduced in 1999, reducing cases to just a handful each year.