Significant progress has been made with vaccine development and introduction over the last 25 years:
- Introduction of the Hib vaccine in 1992
- Meningococcal group C (MenC) vaccine in 1999
- Pneumococcal meningitis vaccine in 2006
- Men B vaccination introduced into the UK routine immunisation schedule Sept 2015
- Men ACWY vaccination was introduced for teenagers and students in Aug 2015
However, there is no vaccine to protect against all types of meningitis, so remaining vigilant to the symptoms, trusting your instincts and getting urgent medical help if concerned, is vital.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia (meningococcal disease). There are five groups - A, B, C, W and Y - which commonly cause disease. Vaccines are now available to give some protection against these groups.
- Meningococcal group B bacteria are now the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK.
- A Men B vaccine was introduced into the UK routine immunisation schedule in September 2015.
- It is offered to babies aged 2 months, with a second dose at 4 months and a booster at 12 months.
- The vaccine is also available privately.
Our Beat it Now! campaign began in January 2013 after the Men B vaccine, Bexsero, was licensed for use in Europe. Now the vaccine is available to infants as part of the UK routine immunisation schedule.
- Since the introduction of a meningococcal group C (Men C) vaccine in 1999, cases of group C disease have fallen by over 90% in all age groups.
- The Men C vaccine (combined with Hib) is offered to infants aged 12-13 months.
Meningococcal group W (Men W) has historically been rare in the UK, but since 2009 cases of Men W have increased year on year and continue to do so. A particularly aggressive strain of Men W is causing disease in all age groups but there has been a significant increase in university students.
As a result of this increase, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that a Men ACWY vaccine should be offered to 14 -18 year-olds to prevent the transmission of this strain.
Teenagers are more likely to carry meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats. Giving a vaccine to 14 – 18 year olds and new university students will directly protect this age group and reduce the chance of the bacteria spreading to others.
A Men ACWY vaccine programme began in August 2015.
- From Spring 2016, the Men ACWY vaccine replaced the Men C vaccine for children in school. It is offered around 14 years of age.
- To ensure all older pupils also receive a dose of this vaccine, it is now offered to 17-18 year olds as part of a 'catch-up' campaign and continues to be offered to university entrants aged 19-25.
- Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia.
- Before the vaccine was introduced in 1992, Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under five.
- Due to the success of this vaccine, Hib meningitis is now very rare.
- A combined vaccine that protects against Hib, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, polio and pertussis (whooping cough) is offered to babies at two, three and four months.
- A different combined vaccine that protects against Hib and meningococcal group C (Men C) disease is given as a booster at 12-13 months.
- Pneumococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia.
- There are over 90 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria, but not all strains cause disease.
- A pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) protects against 13 strains that commonly cause disease. It is offered to babies at two, four and 12-13 months.
- A pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is routinely offered to anyone aged 65 years and over.
- It protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria.
- It only has a limited period of protection and isn’t effective in children under two.
Pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for adults and children who are at increased risk of pneumococcal disease, for example, those with chronic respiratory or heart disease and those with cochlear implants.
Anyone who has had invasive pneumococcal disease, including meningitis, should actively seek immunisation.
- The MMR vaccine protects against mumps, measles and rubella (German measles).
- Prior to the introduction of this vaccine, mumps was a common cause of viral meningitis in young children.
- The vaccine is given at 12-13 months, with a booster dose at around four years.
Other meningitis vaccines
- The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis (TB), which is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. These bacteria can cause TB meningitis.
- The current immunisation programme in the UK targets babies, children and young adults who are most at risk; this includes health workers and those who have been in contact with someone who has TB.
- Anyone travelling to areas of the world where the incidence of TB is high should also have this vaccine. Find out more.
Men ACWY for travel
- The Men ACWY vaccine is also available to prevent groups of meningococcal disease that occur outside the UK.
- Meningococcal group A disease is prevalent in Sub Saharan Africa and causes annual epidemics resulting in thousands of deaths. Visitors to this region should be vaccinated before travelling.
- Meningococcal group W has caused outbreaks of disease in pilgrims travelling to Hajj or Umrah and it is now a legal requirement for those entering Saudi Arabia.