A new jab that will help protect babies against deadly meningitis B will be offered to all newborns in England and Scotland from September this year, with Wales and Northern Ireland following shortly after.
The Men B vaccine (Bexsero) will be given to babies at 2, 4 and 12 months old, and will be administered alongside the existing NHS Childhood Vaccination Schedule. Tests have suggested that it will offer protection against around 90% of the meningococcal group-B bacteria strains in the UK.
Additionally, from August, 17 and 18-year-olds and young people starting university will be offered the Men ACWY jab to protect them from the disease.
At the moment, babies are already routinely inoculated against meningitis A pneumococcal meningitis and Hib (Haemophilus influenza type B) bacterial meningitis but, until now, there was no vaccine for the B strain of the disease.
About 1,870 people contract meningitis B every year and one in 10 dies. Babies under 1 year are the age group most at risk, with cases peaking at around 5 or 6 months of age.
The bacterial infection causes inflammations of the brain and spinal cord, and leaves 1 in 4 of those who contract it with life-altering problems, including brain damage and limb loss. Signs and symptoms of meningitis can vary, and meningitis charity Meningitis Now urge parents not to wait for a rash to appear before seeking professional advice.
Public health minister Jane Ellison branded meningitis ‘devastating’ and told the BBC that she was ‘proud’ that the NHS will now be offering families the vaccine from the summer. ‘The nationwide meningitis B programme will mean that England leads the world in offering children protection from this devastating disease,” she said.
Scotland’s Health Secretary Shona Robison also said she was pleased that families would get ‘peace of mind’ from the vaccines, adding: ‘We’re delighted to be one of the first countries in the world to introduce a nationwide Men B vaccination programme to help tackle the effects of this disease, which can be devastating for children and their families.’