THE BLOG
23/02/2016 12:19 GMT | Updated 23/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Why We Need Protection for Everyone Against Meningitis

The progress against meningitis in the UK over the past 20 years has largely been due to the introduction of effective vaccines.

Members of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), who all have direct experience of this devastating disease, have played a vital role in this progress by bringing pressure to bear on successive UK governments to act to bring in vaccines, putting the UK in the vanguard for protecting children against meningitis.

As the current petition to government has shown, it's not just those who have experienced the disease who are concerned, it's those who never want to experience the disease as well, people looking to protect their children and families. It is their voice which has put MenB vaccination back squarely on the government's agenda.

As well as political will, we also need world class research, not only to develop vaccines in the first place, but also to gather and present evidence to help convince the government to introduce effective vaccines that protect everyone.

And there is also the need to make a hard-headed business case too. That is not what we or you want to hear. But it is true. This is how decisions about the NHS budget are made.

Without this three-part approach - political will, world class research, a solid business case - the vaccines we need and demand won't be introduced.

Today, as part of that approach, in the midst of the current debate about widening the age group eligible for MenB vaccination, at MRF we are asking government to deliver on the plan to show if vaccinating teenagers against MenB can protect the whole population, including the 2-11 year olds who are the focus of the current petition to government.

What we have learned from the massively successful implementation of MenC and other meningitis vaccines is that effective prevention relies only partly on directly protecting those at highest risk by giving them vaccinations. For MenB this is under 1's and the government programme introduced last year is starting this process.

More importantly it relies on protecting the wider population by stopping the spread of the disease. And stopping the spread means attacking the bacteria where they like to live and grow.

We know that these bacteria live harmlessly in the back of the nose and throats of many people, but they are most commonly carried by teenagers. Teenagers who carry the bacteria then unwittingly pass them between each other, as well as on to other more vulnerable age groups. And when the bacteria manage to invade the body from the back of the nose and throat, the consequences can be devastating.

Vaccinating teenagers could therefore be the key to defeating MenB as it has been for MenC. It could go right to the home of the bacteria, making it difficult for them to survive and circulate amongst the wider population - so-called herd immunity.

We now need to find out if the MenB vaccine can stop teenagers from picking up and carrying the bacteria. The JCVI (the government's vaccine advisors) called on the government to support research to answer this question. To date this has not yet happened.

As a vital component to ensure effective protection for all our families from MenB, we call on the government to act on the JCVI recommendation. The best hope of ensuring that no one else has to go through what our members and their families have is by using vaccines to stop the infection from spreading.

Vinny Smith is CEO of the Meningitis Research Foundation