Vaccinating adolescents against meningitis could be key to protecting the wider population

08 December 2016

The Global Meningococcal Initiative (GMI) – a partner of CoMO and an international group of expert scientists, doctors and public health officials have highlighted the need for herd protection in populations where it is currently lacking, to further reduce transmission of meningococcal disease. The experts identified that vaccinating the age groups most likely to carry the meningitis bacteria - particularly adolescents and young adults - is important for achieving protection for the whole population.

Expert Review of Vaccines published the paper which confirms that current vaccination efforts are vital, as the number of cases of meningococcal disease is falling in many countries, but that there is still more to do. The prevention of meningococcal disease largely relies on drastically reducing carriage of the meningococcal bacterial so that it is not carried and spread around the population. The report calls for greater effort in this area across the globe. The experts point out that the approach to achieving herd protection will likely differ from country to country - making it important to consider local differences when developing new vaccine strategies.

This approach to meningitis protection is already noticeably successful in the UK with meningitis C. Teenagers and young adults, who are the main carriers of the bug were vaccinated and lead to a dramatic reduction in incidence in all other age groups. However, while further evidence on carriage reduction is being gathered, the meningitis B vaccine is only available to babies.

 

Daphne Holt, Vice President of CoMO said, “I am delighted that the importance of herd protection is gaining more attention. With international travel increasing and new strains emerging, it is more crucial than ever that vaccination programmes are targeted to those who have the highest carriage rates.”

Head of Research at Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), Linda Glennie said, “We welcome these recommendations from the GMI. Adolescents aged between 14 to 18 are more likely to carry meningococcal bacteria than any other age group. Vaccinating young adults should protect them and stop the bacteria from being passed on to others. This means that even unvaccinated people will be protected from catching the disease. Meningococcal B infection has been the largest cause of meningitis in the UK for decades. Introducing the MenB vaccine for babies in 2015 was a major step forward, but restricting the vaccine to only this narrow highest risk age group can never prevent the majority of cases. A commitment was made by ministers to fund an evaluation of the MenB vaccine in teenagers and we hope that this report from the GMI gives further impetus to begin the process of funding of the teenage evaluation.”

The GMI acknowledges the extensive contribution of the advocacy and awareness campaigns of its partner organisations CoMO and MRF in reducing incidence of meningococcal disease.