PHE hails the start of a new vaccination programme, which offers young children protection against meningococcal group B (MenB) disease.
From 1 September 2015, the MenB vaccination will be added to the NHS Childhood Immunisation Programme in England. The vaccine will help protect children against this devastating disease which can cause meningitis (an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) which are serious and potentially fatal illnesses.
Babies will be offered the MenB vaccine with the other routine vaccinations at 2 months, 4 months and 12 to 13 months of age. Vaccinating babies at these times helps protect them when they are most at risk of developing MenB disease.
Infants under 1 year of age are most at risk of MenB and the number of cases peak at around 5 or 6 months of age.
In March 2014, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended a national MenB immunisation programme for infants using a 3-dose schedule. The programme, using Bexsero® vaccine, was announced in March 2015.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said:
This vaccine will help to save lives and prevent permanent disability. Meningococcal B disease can be devastating for babies and young children and it has cut many lives short and left young people disabled.
The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms in babies and young children can include a high fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting and refusing to feed, agitation, drowsiness or being floppy or unresponsive, grunting or breathing rapidly or having an unusual high-pitched or moaning cry.
A classic sign is pale, blotchy skin, and a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it. Additional symptoms include having a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle), having a stiff neck and an aversion to bright lights or having convulsions or seizures.
We must all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern as the vaccine does not protect against all types of meningococcal disease.
Be aware of all signs and symptoms and trust your instincts: don’t wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent medical attention.
Dr Ramsay added:
Bexsero has a good safety record, but Public Health England is also making parents aware of an increased risk of fever when the vaccine is given alongside other immunisations, and the need to purchase infant liquid paracetamol for the 2 and 4-month appointment visits.
It’s important that parents use paracetamol following vaccination to reduce the risk of fever. The fever peaks around 6 hours after vaccination but is nearly always mild and gone within 2 days. The fever shows the baby’s body is responding to the vaccine, although the level of fever depends on the individual child and does not indicate how well the vaccine has worked: some infants may not develop a fever at all.
We know that fever in young infants may cause some parents concern, but it’s important to be aware that it will be short-lived in nearly all cases. The vaccine will go on to help protect against MenB disease during a period when babies and young children are most at risk. We’ve all too often seen the disease result in severe disabilities, or tragically even death, causing devastation to our families and communities.
The good news is that giving paracetamol reduces the chances of getting fever by more than a half, and also reduces the risk of irritability and discomfort, such as pain at the injection site, after vaccination.
Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison said:
This is a landmark moment.
Men B can be truly devastating and we know the suffering it can cause to families. Now, in our country, every new baby can get this free vaccine to protect them from this terrible disease.
Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, Christopher Head, said:
We are delighted the MenB vaccine has been introduced as it has been at the top of this charity’s agenda for many years. We hope this vaccine will save many lives and spare countless families the trauma of seeing a loved one die or become seriously disabled because of MenB.
This vaccine could potentially prevent up to 4,000 cases of meningococcal disease in children younger than 5 years in the UK. However, we must remind the public that there are still some forms of the disease which are not covered by vaccines so it is vital that people are still aware of the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia.
Chief Executive of Meningitis Now, Sue Davie, said:
We’re delighted to reach this milestone and see the vaccination programme protecting our newborn babies in England. This programme will save lives straight away and for years to come. We stand ready to support the roll out in any way we can.
Kelly Mellor’s 9 year old daughter Ellie Mae contracted meningococcal disease when she was just 11 months old. She said:
When Ellie Mae first became ill our worlds came crashing down around us. Our beautiful, healthy baby was suddenly purple from head to toe and we had no idea if she would pull through.
Fortunately for us, Ellie is a fighter but her recovery has not been without trauma. Ellie has undergone 76 operations and lost both her legs and one arm
The launch of this vaccine is vital for making sure other families don’t have to go through what we have and I encourage all new mums to take up the vaccination with the other routine ones. Whilst Ellie is alive she is not without health problems and life is a constant uphill struggle.
Ellie contracting meningitis has been life changing and has not just affected her, but the whole family. We can’t change the past but this vaccine can change people’s futures.
Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland.
A patient information leaflet, MenB: protecting your baby against meningitis and septicaemia is available, alongside other resources for the public and healthcare professionals.
For the first year of the programme in England, a single sachet of infant paracetamol with a measuring syringe will be available for each child if they do not already have paracetamol at home. Parents will need to ensure they have also have extra paracetamol at home for subsequent doses needed.
The MenB programme was announced in June by public health minister Jane Ellison. The MenACWY vaccination programme announced at the same time and targeted at teenagers began in August.
MenB remains the most common cause of invasive meningococcal disease in England, being responsible for 400 cases in 2014 and 535 cases in 2013, mainly in infants and young children. Peak incidence of MenB is around 5 months of age.
In addition to the new vaccination programme, there is also a limited catch-up programme for infants who are due their 3 and 4-month vaccinations in September to protect them in time for when they are most at risk of MenB infection.
Bexsero® (developed by Novartis and now manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline) is the only market authorised MenB vaccine in Europe and should protect against most MenB strains causing serious disease in the UK.
The MenB vaccine (Bexsero®) vaccine has been through 10 years of trials in the laboratory and among volunteers. Although the vaccine isn’t used routinely anywhere else in the world, over 500,000 doses have already been given in more than 35 countries worldwide. In Canada, the vaccine has been given to more than 45,000 children and teenagers, aged between 2 months and 20 years, with no concerns about the safety of the vaccine.
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