Almost exactly a year ago, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that a new vaccine against group B meningococcus (MenB) should become part of the NHS’s routine immunisation schedule for children, as long as the Department of Health was able to negotiate a cost-effective price with the manufacturer. Those negotiations have taken months – but yesterday the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the government had reached an agreement with the manufacturer of the MenB vaccine Bexsero®. The agreement means that the vaccine will almost certainly be introduced into the routine UK schedule in 2015, making the UK the first country in the world to introduce routine vaccination against MenB disease.
This announcement marks a major breakthrough in combatting meningococcal disease in the UK. In 1999 a vaccine was introduced against MenC disease, and this quickly led to the virtual elimination of MenC disease in the UK. However, disease caused by the MenB strain continued to circulate; at the moment there are about 600 cases every year in the UK, with about 50 deaths, and many more left with serious long-term problems. At the time of the JCVI recommendation in March 2014, Professor Andrew Pollard, chairman of the JCVI and Director of Oxford Vaccine Group, said "MenB disproportionately affects babies and young children and can be devastating… Use of the new vaccine would reduce cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia and lead to a reduction in deaths, limb amputations and brain injury caused by the disease."
The MenB vaccine will be given at 2, 4 and 12 months. From large clinical trials carried out over many years, it is expected that the new vaccine will prevent a high proportion of cases of MenB disease. Following the introduction of the vaccine, ongoing surveillance will be important in determining exactly how effective the vaccine is.
Meningococcal disease will not be eliminated completely through the introduction of this new vaccine. However, it is reassuring that the MenB vaccine is likely also to provide protection against the MenW strain currently circulating in the UK, as stated in recent minutes from the JCVI (page 20). See also our blog piece on MenW disease.
Introducing the MenB vaccine is very important in terms of guiding and shaping the future development of MenB vaccines in general. If protection is as high as predicted from the clinical trials, it may also encourage other countries to follow the UK’s example and introduce the vaccine into their routine schedule. This is an extremely positive step which should significantly reduce cases of this devastating disease and make an important contribution to the health of the UK’s population – especially for babies and young children.
Meningitis Research Foundation: Frequently asked questions about the Men B vaccine