07 February 2017
In January, The UK Department of Health launched a call for study proposals into the effectiveness of meningitis B vaccines in preventing the carriage of Meningococcus Serogroup B bacteria in teenagers. This follows news from Australia, where 60,000 teenagers and young adults in South Australia will be given free vaccinations against Meningococcal B as part of a study run by the University of Adelaide, called ‘B Part of It’. The aim of these studies is to examine whether the Meningococcal B vaccine reduces the spread of meningococcal bacteria in teenagers. This is an exciting time for meningitis researchers in both the UK and Australia as these studies could uncover the key to protecting the whole population from meningitis B.
Meningococcal B infection is the most common cause of life-threatening meningitis in the UK. Each year in Australia, 5-10 per cent of people with meningococcal disease die despite rapid treatment. Whilst most people infected with the bacteria do not go on to contract the disease, they do ‘carry’ the disease and could pass this onto others who might be more vulnerable to contracting the disease.
In both countries, teenagers are the age group that is most likely to carry the bacteria in their nose or throat. Vaccinating this age group could provide protection for all age groups as it would prevent them spreading the bacteria to others. This type of protection is called Herd Protection. “In South Australia, we’ve seen the devastating consequences of meningococcal disease - and particularly the B strain - too many times this year, so studies like these are critical in trying to tackle this disease,” said Minister for Health, Jack Snelling.
Currently, in the UK, GSK’s Bexsero® is the only licensed vaccine against MenB. The UK was the first country in the world to issue the vaccine as part of the national immunisation programme for infants under one year of age and was proven 83% effective against all MenB strains in infants. Whilst this is encouraging, the under one year olds only account for a quarter of cases nationwide and the older age groups are those who are more vulnerable to contracting the potentially-deadly meningococcal disease. Meningococcal B infection kills roughly 10% of those who contract it in the UK whilst approximately 20% of those who survive are left with major physical disabilities.
In Australia, however, the vaccine is currently not available for free as part of the National immunisation program. This is something that CoMO member, Meningitis Centre Australia (MCA) is campaigning for. In Australia, 5-10% of people with meningococcal disease die each year and there is a 40% chance those who survive the infection will have ongoing complications and disabilities, including limb amputations and brain damage. “We hope all Year 10, 11 and 12 students will B Part of It and take up the opportunity to be protected against Meningococcal B,” said Professor Marshall, leading the study that will give participants two doses of GSK’s Bexsero, 8 months apart and test by taking two swabs from the back of their throat.
CoMO member, Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is largely to thank for the UK government’s consideration of this research. Their successful campaign and a public petition contributed to the Public Health minister committing to investigate extending the scope of the MenB vaccination programme in April 2016. With £1.3 million worth of funding on offer, the UK Department of Health is now waiting to receive study outlines before the accepted studies are due to start later this year. These advancements are an encouraging step in the direction of a life course approach to immunisation and a society free of Meningococcal B infection. Watch this space!
For more information on the MenB vaccine, Bexsero®, please see MRF’s information page
For more information on the B part of It study, please see MCA’s website.
Lucy is the Events and Communications Officer at CoMO. She is a graduate from the University of Liverpool, where she studied French and Hispanic Studies. Lucy has experience working for a range of organisations in the charity sector both in the UK and overseas.