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UK’s MenB vaccination programme cuts incidence of the disease

Vaccination programme cuts incidence of the disease by 75%, study of roll out in England shows

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 24 January 2020

The UK infant vaccination programme against group B meningococcal disease (MenB) has led to a significant decline in cases of the disease in young children, a study* by Public Health England and published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown.

In September 2015 the UK became the first country to offer the Bexsero vaccine against MenB to babies at eight and 16 weeks of age, followed by a booster around their first birthday.

Data from the first three months of 2018 showed that 92.5% of children had completed the primary immunisations by their first birthday and 87.9% had received all three doses by two years.

The study reported that from September 2015 through August 2018, the incidence of MenB in England was significantly lower in vaccine-eligible cohorts than the expected incidence (63 observed cases as compared with 253 expected cases) with a 75% reduction in age groups that were fully eligible for vaccination. Over the three-year period, there were 169 cases of meningococcal group B disease in the vaccine-eligible cohorts, and an estimated 277 out of an expected 446 cases were prevented.

MenB is one of the leading infectious killers in young children and the incidence is highest in infants during the first year of life. The disease causes meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning); around one out of 20 will die and survivors often experience life-changing complications such as brain injury, epilepsy, hearing loss, and amputation of limbs.

Dr Shamez Ladhani, consultant epidemiologist at Public Health England, said:  “England has one of the most comprehensive immunisation programmes in the world. The implementation of the MenB vaccine in 2015 is a great success, it is already saving lives and means fewer parents and young children will experience this devastating illness.”

Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: “We know that there’s a lot of misinformation about vaccines on social media and on the internet, but this latest report shows that parents shouldn’t worry about the safety of the vaccine – in fact, it saves precious lives.”

In England, MenB vaccinations are well-accepted by parents. Uptake has remained consistently high along with the other routine infant immunisations. In 2019 around 92% of infants completed their primary MenB vaccination by their first birthday and almost 88% received their booster dose by two years old. So far, almost five million doses of the MenB vaccine have been safely given to children in the UK.

The MenB vaccine does not protect against all causes of meningitis and septicaemia, so parents need to remain vigilant of the signs and symptoms and seek medical advice if they are concerned.

*Ladhani SN, Andrews N, Parikh SR, et al. Vaccination of Infants with Meningococcal Group B Vaccine (4CMenB) in England. N Engl J Med 2020; 382:309-317, January 23, 2020, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1901229

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