The vaccine – known as Menitorix – has been part of the NHS routine immunisation schedule since 2006. It provides protection to infants and children from meningitis caused by two types of bacteria – Haemophilus influenzae type b (known as Hib) and meningococcal group C (known as MenC).
The change has been prompted because the manufacturer of Menitorix, GSK, are to discontinue manufacturing the vaccine. The JCVI have therefore been considering how to replace this important vaccine for a number of years.
They have recommended that the Hib part of the vaccination be given by providing an additional dose of the multivalent vaccine (6 in 1) at the age of 12 or 18 months. This will also protect children against diseases such as diphtheria, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and hepatitis B.
However, the MenC part of the vaccine will not be replaced. Instead, the JCVI have suggested that herd immunity created by the successful uptake of the MenACWY vaccination in teenagers will be enough to protect infants and children.
This recommendation has been made following careful consideration and planning by the JCVI and the UK Health Security Agency. There is now very little disease caused by MenC and infants are being protected through herd immunity due to the success of the teenage MenACWY vaccine programme. The JCVI have also stressed that the change will be accompanied by close surveillance of disease incidence.
No precise timeline for the change has been published although the JCVI statement suggests that the current schedule could continue until 2025, unless other changes are made to the schedule during this time.
Low rates of MenC
Responding to this change, CEO of Meningitis Now, Dr Tom Nutt said:
“This recommendation highlights what we can consider to be good news in that rates of meningitis caused by MenC are currently very low. It is also good news that the uptake of the MenACWY vaccination by teenagers is sufficiently high to afford protection from MenC to infants and children.
“However, the withdrawal of a vaccine that has demonstrably protected so many lives since 2006 will be a source of worry for many people and especially parents. Any change that lessens the direct protection afforded by vaccines will naturally be a cause for concern.
“At Meningitis Now, we are reassured by the evidence produced by the JCVI in support of this change. It does appear that herd immunity will be sufficient to protect infants and children.
“We will, however, keep this recommendation under close scrutiny and review. We plan to share all our concerns with the JCVI, including the views of all the Meningitis Now family.
“And – of course – the recommendation underlines the importance of people taking up all vaccinations when offered them through the NHS. This is especially the case for teenagers being offered the MenACWY vaccination at school. By having this vaccination you not only protect yourself; you also save the lives of others.”
Meningitis Now has also been working closely with Meningitis Research Foundation in our response to this proposed change. A spokesperson from MRF, Liz Rodgers, Head of Research, said:
“The evidence highlighted by the JCVI suggests that, due to the success of vaccination programmes in reducing invasive meningococcal A, C, W and Y disease in the UK, an infant MenC containing dose may no longer be required. With protection against MenC and MenW for babies reliant on the teenage MenACWY school-based vaccination programmes (a programme which was significantly impacted by the pandemic), achieving and maintaining high vaccine uptake rates will be more important than ever. Public health authorities maintaining strong surveillance of disease cases and vaccine uptake rates, and making such data publicly available, will remain essential. We welcome continued collaboration with UKHSA on awareness-raising initiatives, including for those who may have missed receiving their vaccine because of COVID-19 restrictions.”
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