Vaccine against last major killer strain of meningitis is licensed
A meningitis B vaccine that could save thousands of lives has been licensed for the first time in the UK, in a move hailed as the most important breakthrough in 30 years.
The vaccine will now be available privately and UK Government advisers are deciding if it should be introduced into the free NHS childhood vaccination programme.
The jab, called Bexsero, has been licensed for use in babies from the age of two months and offers protection against the majority of meningitis B strains that occur in the UK.
Up to 2,000 people are infected with meningitis B each year in the UK and one in ten will die despite receive prompt medical treatment.
A further one in four will suffer lifelong disability as a result of the brain disease.
Meningitis is commonly cited as the most feared disease by parents because it strikes otherwise healthy children who can deteriorate and die within hours.
Campaigners urged the Government to introduce the vaccine routinely as soon as possible after previous jabs against the disease took five years from licensing to reach the general population.
Steve Dayman, founder of the charity, Meningitis UK, who lost his 14-month-old son Spencer to meningitis and septicaemia, said: “This ground-breaking vaccine is the most important development since I lost my son to meningitis 30 years ago.
“The news is the most significant step forward in the fight I have ever heard.
“The Government must introduce the Meningitis B vaccine into the immunisation schedule as soon as possible – it will save thousands of lives and spare families so much suffering.
“Any delay means lives will be lost.
“The last major meningitis vaccine took five years to be introduced – we cannot wait that long again.
“Cost shouldn’t be a barrier for this vaccine either – you cannot put a price on life.
“Please support our Beat it Now campaign. Together we can end the heartache caused by Meningitis B.”
There are already vaccines against the other major causes of meningitis, Hib and meningitis C, which saw substantial reductions in deaths and disability from the disease.
The Health Protection Agency estimates that since 2000, the MenC vaccination programme has prevented over 9000 cases of serious disease and more than 1000 deaths.
Uptake rates of the vaccines, given to babies, has remained consistently high.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the Government and whose recommendations are binding, is thought to be currently investigating the price, cost effectiveness and dosing schedule before deciding if and how the vaccine should be offered on the NHS.
Andrin Oswald, Division Head at the makers, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, said: "Each year, thousands of parents worldwide see their children die or left with severe disabilities as a result of this devastating disease.
"Through the combined efforts of many people over two decades, we are closer than ever to seeing an end to this suffering.
"Our vision is a world without meningitis, and our priority is to work with decision makers across Europe to ensure there is broad and timely access to vaccination."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Meningitis is a worry for many parents so we're pleased that a meningococcal B vaccine has now been licensed.
"Our independent group of vaccination experts, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), is currently looking at the use of this vaccine and will provide advice in due course."
Rebecca Smith Telegraph.co.uk