Meningitis B vaccine on the horizon

Soon a shot could protect against deadly meningitis B. Early clinical trials have shown it could prevent the illness in more than 80 per cent of youngsters.

Meningitis B is particularly dangerous for children, leading to 120 deaths in the UK every year. There are around 1,200 new cases of meningitis B every year. Around 1 in 10 victims die and another 15 per cent are left with permanent disabilities - often limbs have to be amputated due to blood poisoning. The infection causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include a severe headache, vomiting, a rash, sensitivity to light and a stiff neck.

Vaccines exist against types A and C meningitis, but none that is broadly effective against strains in serogroup B, mostly prevalent in industrialised nations. Type A is the primary cause of epidemic meningitis in Africa. However there is no vaccine for type B.

In the clinical trial involving 539 teenagers, they found that just over 80 per cent were completely protected against the illness. They were given three doses of the vaccine over six months. Researchers then measured whether their immune system was able to fight the meningitis bacteria.

Lead author Peter Richmond, whose study is published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, said, “It’s really important that we protect against this disease. It’s so hard to recognise early on and then it progresses so rapidly, it’s a matter of hours.”

“Mild to moderate pain at the injection site was the most commonly reported side effect,” he said. The authors said further trials must be held to determine the duration of vaccine protection. “If additional studies show similar immunogenicity (the ability to produce an immune response) and tolerability, this vaccine might help to reduce the global burden of invasive meningococcal disease,” said Richmond.

The researchers hope the vaccine, developed by drugs’ firm Pfizer, will be on the market within the next three to five years. But another drug maker, Novartis, has already applied to the European drugs regulatory body for a licence for its vaccine following successful results earlier this year. If approved, the vaccine would likely be given to babies from the age of two months with a booster every year.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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