Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) supporters across the UK are celebrating the news that a long awaited and hard campaigned for vaccine against the most feared and deadly disease will be offered to babies for free under the NHS.
Meningococcal B disease (MenB) has for decades been the single largest cause of meningitis in the UK. Young children and adolescents are most at risk. It leads to death in 10% of all cases and to long-term after effects in a further 36%. Department of Health (DH) surveys have consistently shown that meningitis is the illness parents of young children in our country fear the most. Each year it costs the NHS millions of pounds in medical litigation, and the long-term costs to government of a severe case can exceed £3million.
MenB has been at the top of this charity's agenda for decades and we are delighted that vaccinating all babies against this devastating disease is now within sight, cementing the UK's position as a world leader in meningitis prevention.
When this vaccine is finally introduced it will save lives and spare countless families the trauma of seeing a loved one die or become seriously disabled because of MenB. The bitter experience of those who have been personally affected has been vital in our campaigning for this vaccine, demonstrating the compelling case for prevention. We pay tribute to them and pledge to continue supporting them.
We do however remain concerned that there is no recommendation for teenagers, the second highest 'at risk' group, to be routinely vaccinated. Vaccinating this age group has the potential to protect the wider population because they are key to transmission and spread.
Richard Mills from Marlow is a member of MRF and his family and friends have raised over £120,000 for the campaigning charity since his son Harry died of Group B meningococal meningitis and septicaemia in 2007 aged 11.
He said: "My wife Judi can still remember taking Harry to our GP's surgery for his meningitis jab when he was just a toddler and left feeling sure Harry was safe but unaware there were different strains. Harry's life was extinguished in a single day by MenB because it is so difficult to detect and we passionately believe a vaccine is the only way to fight this strain of meningitis. We are thrilled to hear that the MenB vaccine is going to be given to babies across the UK and hope it will prevent countless families in the future having to face the pain of losing a child or seeing them badly disabled. "
The search for a MenB vaccine has proved particularly lengthy as it is a very difficult scientific problem to solve. Over the past 25 years, excellent vaccines against less common kinds of meningitis have been introduced and many people are alive today who would otherwise have fallen victim to these strains. Meanwhile, MenB, the most common strain, has continued to circulate unchecked.
Linda Glennie, Head of Research & Medical Information at MRF said: "After years of research it's wonderful to see a MenB vaccine available for all babies in the UK. We pay tribute to all the scientists and health professionals involved in the creation of the vaccine. Our members and supporters have played an important role, demonstrating the burden of MenB disease and funding years of research, including studies that allowed the vaccine to be tested. Their continued support will help us evaluate the vaccine once implemented."