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Vaccine slashes cases of meningitis B in infants

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Meningitis and septicaemia cases caused by Meningococcal group B have nearly halved in eligible infants since the recent introduction of immunisation, according to Public Health England.

Since this time last year, all newborn babies in the UK have been routinely offered the jab against MenB, in the world’s first infant programme using this vaccine.

“This is without doubt great news. MenB is a rare, but terrible disease”

Mary Ramsay

PHE said its “real world” data on the impact of the vaccine, called Bexsero, had shown it was “highly effective against this devastating infection and potentially life-saving”.

It said protection against any MenB infection was shown to be very high, with disease rates in vaccinated children less than one fifth of the rate in unvaccinated infants.

The number of MenB cases in infants aged less than one, the age group most likely to be affected by MenB, had dropped by 42% since vaccination began in September 2015, said PHE.

Only 37 cases have been recorded in the eligible age group since the programme started, compared to an average of 74 cases in the same period from the previous four years.

MenB is rare, with between 400 and 1,200 cases each year in England, with infants under one year of age most at risk. Meningococcal infection is the leading cause of meningitis and a deadly form of septicaemia (blood poisoning); around 1 in every 10 people affected dies.

The data was presented today by PHE scientists at the International Pathogenic Neisseria Conference in Manchester.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “This is without doubt great news. MenB is a rare, but terrible disease. Now we know this vaccine can and will save lives and prevent lifelong disability.

Public Health England

Dr Mary Ramsay

Mary Ramsay

“The programme is still in its early days, so we will be monitoring the longer-term impact of the vaccine through our surveillance programme. But the benefit of the vaccine is clear,” she said.

Bexsero is offered as three jabs – the first at two months, a second at four months and a final booster at 12 months.

PHE monitoring found that over 95% of babies got their first jab and almost 90% the second jab by the age of six months.

Linda Glennie, head of research at the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “It is great to see this early evidence that the national meningitis B immunisation programme for children under age one is effective.”

Dr Thomas Breuer, chief medical officer of GSK Vaccines, which makes Bexsero, added: “We are extremely encouraged by the initial results of the UK programme. The data substantially advance our understanding of the impact of meningitis B vaccines in a real world setting.”

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