New vaccine offers babies and young children protection against Men B disease

A new vaccination programme introduced by Public Health England (PHE) is set to offer young children protection against meningococcal group B (Men B) disease.

From September 1st, the Men B vaccination will be added to the NHS Childhood Immunisation Programme in England to help protect children against this devastating disease which can cause meningitis (an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) which are serious and potentially fatal illnesses.

Babies will be offered the Men B vaccine with the other routine vaccinations at two months, four months and 12-13 months of age. Vaccinating babies at these times helps protect them when they are most at risk of developing Men B disease.

Infants under one year of age are most at risk of Men B and the number of cases peak at around five or six months of age.

In March 2014, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended a national Men B immunisation programme for infants using a three-dose schedule. In March 2015, the programme, using Bexsero® vaccine, was announced.

Commenting on the introduction of this new Men B vaccine in a recent article, Patient's Clinical Editor, Dr Hayley Willacy, said: "In the past 20 years, between 500 and 1,700 people every year, mainly babies and young children, have suffered from meningococcal group B (Men B)disease, with around 1 in 10 dying from the infection."

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said: "This vaccine will help to save lives and prevent permanent disability. Meningococcal B disease can be devastating for babies and young children and it has cut many lives short and left young people disabled.

"The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms in babies and young children can include a high fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting and refusing to feed, agitation, drowsiness or being floppy or unresponsive, grunting or breathing rapidly or having an unusual high-pitched or moaning cry.

"A classic sign is pale, blotchy skin, and a red rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it. Additional symptoms include having a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle), having a stiff neck and an aversion to bright lights or having convulsions or seizures.

"We must all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern as the vaccine does not protect against all types of meningococcal disease.

"Be aware of all signs and symptoms and trust your instincts - don't wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent medical attention."

Dr Ramsay added: "Bexsero® has a good safety record, but Public Health England is also making parents aware of an increased risk of fever when the vaccine is given alongside other immunisations, and the need to purchase infant liquid paracetamol for the two and four month appointment visits.

"It's important that parents use paracetamol following vaccination to reduce the risk of fever. The fever peaks around six hours after vaccination but is nearly always mild and gone within two days. The fever shows the baby's body is responding to the vaccine, although the level of fever depends on the individual child and does not indicate how well the vaccine has worked - some infants may not develop a fever at all.

"We know that fever in young infants may cause some parents concern, but it's important to be aware that it will be short-lived in nearly all cases. The vaccine will go on to help protect against Men B disease during a period when babies and young children are most at risk - we've all too often seen the disease result in severe disabilities, or tragically even death, causing devastation to our families and communities.

"The good news is that giving paracetamol reduces the chances of getting fever by more than a half, and also reduces the risk of irritability and discomfort, such as pain at the injection site, after vaccination."