A vaccine to protect babies from meningitis B has been authorised for use by the European Commission.
Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis, which makes the vaccine, known as Bexsero, is now working to get it ready for use as quickly as possible. The European Commission will allow Bexsero to be given to babies from the age of two months.
MenB disease is the main cause of bacterial meningitis in Britain and is difficult for health professionals to diagnose as the symptoms often resemble other illnesses including the flu. In around 10% of cases the disease is fatal even with medical treatment and up to 20% of those who survive may lose limbs or suffer from brain damage, hearing loss or other serious permanent disabilities.
Steve Dayman MBE, the founder of the charity Meningitis UK, lost his son to meningitis B three decades ago. He welcomed news of the vaccine describing it as the “most important medical breakthough” since his child’s death and one that could save thousands of lives.
Andrin Oswald, the division head of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, said that the firm’s main priority is to work with governments and official bodies across Europe to make sure the vaccine can be made quickly available to large numbers of people.
He said thousands of children die or are left seriously disabled die to meningitis B every year. He said the work to produce an effective vaccination to protect against it had involved a large number of people over 20 years.
He added: “Our vision is a world without meningitis.”
A decision on whether Bexsero will be available in the UK as part of the national infant immunisation programme has not yet been made. But it is currently being considered by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).