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The good news is that vaccines exist to protect against some forms of meningitis. Significant progress has been made over the last 20 years with the introduction of the Hib vaccine in 1992, the Meningitis C vaccine in 1999 and most recently a vaccine to protect against Pneumoccoccal Meningitis in 2006 into the routine immunisation programme in the UK.
However, there is still no vaccine to protect against all forms of meningitis.
The Department of Health has announced that it is working to introduce the Meningitis B vaccine to the childhood vaccination programme. This vaccine will offer protection against the common type of bacterial meningitis which can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning)
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have recommended that the vaccine is introduced into the Childhood Immunisation Programme for infants, subject to agreement on cost. The Government will now begin negotiations with the vaccine company Novartis.
Meningitis Now is also warning people about the risk of becoming complacent about meningitis.
"We should not lose sight of the fact that even after this vaccine is introduced meningitis is not going away and will always be with us."
Sue Davie, Chief Executive of Meningitis Now said: "As a support-focussed organisation, our commitment is that we will always be here for those individuals and families already affected by meningitis and those that will sadly continue to contract the disease. Whatever the future holds in the battle against this devastating disease we will always be here for you."
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia. A vaccine to prevent meningococcal group C disease (Men C) has been part of the childhood immunisation programme since 1999. This vaccine has reduced the number of cases by over 90% in all age groups.
Improvements to the UK immunisation programme now includes a booster dose of the Men C vaccine being offered in adolescence, and freshers, so that protection against this devastating disease will be maintained. Recent research has shown that the protection the vaccine provides starts to decline in teenage years.
Babies and children under 5 are the most at risk from Men C disease, but teenagers and young people are also a high risk group and are also more likely to carry meningitis causing bacteria in the back of their throats.
Men C vaccine is offered to:
At three months of age, with a second dose at 12 months in a combined vaccine with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
A teenage booster of Men C vaccine is offered to all children aged between 13 and 15. It's given at the same time as the 3-in-1 teenage booster (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and polio).
From late summer 2014, students who are starting university for the first time will be offered a catch-up booster of Men C vaccine. This student catch-up programme will continue for several years until all university entrants have received a Men C teenage booster vaccination. This includes:
Effective vaccines are available to prevent some types of meningitis, but not all, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia so that you can take action.
Many other bacteria, viruses and fungi also cause meningitis which at present can’t be prevented by vaccination. It is essential that everyone knows the signs and symptoms to look for, and how to get urgent medical help.
Vaccines are given to help the body’s immune system fight infection. They contain antigens which are usually harmless, purified components of a germ that can cause disease.
When a vaccine is injected into the body, the immune system is stimulated to produce antibodies in response to these antigens. After vaccination, if someone comes into contact with the germ itself, the body recognise it and be able to fight it.
A different vaccine is needed to give protection against each different germ, and some vaccines need to be given more than once to build up enough protection.
Vaccines have been very successful in reducing the cases of meningitis, with thousands of lives being saved as a result.
In the UK, many diseases are no longer a threat and this is because of the high immunisation rates. Vaccines do not just offer protection to the person receiving them, but also help protect others in the community, particularly children, who for medical reasons cannot be immunised.
Common symptoms that can occur following vaccination include redness and swelling around the injection site and fever. They are natural reactions of the body’s immune system. These symptoms will usually subside in a very short period of time, and are a good indicator of a successful vaccination.
Yes. Before a vaccine can be licensed for use in the UK, it is thoroughly tested for its safety and effectiveness.
A travel vaccine is available to prevent some groups of meningococcal disease. Group A causes epidemics in Sub-Saharan Africa and results in thousands of deaths each year. In recent years, group W135 has caused outbreaks in pilgrims travelling to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and it is now a legal requirement that these visitors are vaccinated against W135. The vaccine protects against groups A, C, W135 and Y, and is available for travellers to ‘at risk’ areas of the world. Always check with your GP or travel clinic for the most up-to-date vaccine information.
Meningitis Now is the new name for Meningitis UK and the Meningitis Trust. Our goals remain the same – saving lives and rebuilding futures.
Read the latest news on MenB vaccine
Our helpline is available to offer advice and answer your meningitis questions.
Meningitis leaflets, posters and downloads:
You can now keep the Meningitis Now signs and symptoms card on your iPhone. Life-saving information at your fingertips
The following are vital to continue our fight against meningitis
£3.00 Can help answer questions on meningitis and give support through our helpline
£5.00 Can help provide counselling to someone dealing with the impact of meningitis
£10.00 Can help to fund a family day where families struggling with the after effects of the disease can talk about and share their experiences
£10.00 would fund the 2am call to our helpline from a family whose child is in A&E with the disease and the Doctors can’t give them answers
£100 – can pay for a day’s research into preventing meningitis.
£500 - can purchase a lab computer to record and analyse crucial preventative disease research.
£3,000 – can purchase a biological microscope, to help with our ongoing and crucial research into new and improved preventative vaccines.