In a joint venture British and Canadian researchers have found that a new type of meningitis vaccine offers immunity to infants as young as six months from the deadly disease.
The vaccine which is made by Swiss drugmaker Novartis, was tested in 421 healthy infants in Britain and Canada for it's safety and effectiveness and the researchers say it promises protection to young babies aged 3 to 12 months.
The vaccine called MenACWY or Menveo targets four of the most common strains of meningococcal meningitis, A, C, Y and W-135.
The potentially fatal bacterial disease causes inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.
According to Matthew Snape from Oxford University, an older vaccine currently under license in the United States offers poor protection for the infants who are most at risk and he says the new vaccine promises to dramatically reduce the number of young children who experience the devastating illness.
In the study the children received one of three different dosing schedules or a jab from a vaccine targeting only meningitis C and it boosted immunity to all four strains in the three different dosing groups.
However the new vaccine does not protect against the B serotype of meningococcal bacteria, which causes about a third of U.S. cases.
The researchers found that at least 92 percent of infants who received the vaccine at two, three and four months developed antibodies to all four strains of meningitis.
The researchers said the study showed the vaccine boosted immunity in infancy but was not large enough to prove the vaccine was safe.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lee Harrison from the University of Pittsburgh says in a commentary that it will be important to track how long immunity lasts in order to determine whether a booster dose is needed before the shot currently given in adolescence.
Dr. Harrison says the study represents a major advance in the vaccine prevention of meningococcal disease.
The vaccine is currently in several late-stage trials funded by Novartis and the company aims to make regulatory submissions in 2008.
Last October another drug company, Sanofi-Aventis was awarded U.S. regulatory approval for a similar vaccine called Menactra for children aged 2-10.
In the U.S., meningitis affects 1,400 to 2,800 people each year and as many as 14% die; survivors often suffer brain damage, amputation, and/or hearing loss.
The research along with the Harrison editorial, is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.