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Practices warned over potential meningitis C vaccine error

GP practices in some areas are being warned they may have inadvertently used the wrong meningitis C vaccine as part of the revised infant vaccination schedule, Pulse has learned.

NHS England area teams are writing to affected practices that may have vaccinated three-month-old babies with the Meningitec vaccine, instead of either of the two recommended meningitis C vaccines, NeisVac-C or Menjugate.

GPs are advised they need to make sure any parents whose child was given Meningitec at three months are informed and invited in for the 12-month booster vaccine on time, as the initial dose may not have offered full protection.

However, Public Health England (PHE) said the risk of meningitis C disease in infants was likely to be very low, as it is now very rare in the UK in children.

Under a raft of changes to vaccination schedules introduced last year, the infant meningitis C schedule was changed from June so that babies now receive only a single dose of vaccine at three months and a 12-month booster given as the Hib/MenC combination vaccine, instead of two doses of meningitis C vaccine one month apart, at three and four months, followed by the 12-month booster.  

Practices had been advised in May that they should only use NeisvacC or Menjugate Kit for the single three-month dose from June onwards, and no longer use Meningitec, as only the former two provide sufficient protection for the first year of life until the booster is given at 12-13 months.

But PHE said some NHS England area teams had found some children have a record of receiving Meningitec as a single dose at three months. Although some of these were due to misrecording of the vaccine, either on the GP system or the Child Health Information System, others were confirmed as being down to the wrong vaccine being used. The errors mainly occurred around the time of the change in the meningitis C schedule.

A PHE spokesperson said it was not clear exactly how many practices or children were affected: ‘We do not have information nationally on the total number of practices affected, but around a quarter of practices have ordered Meningitec since the programme changed last summer.

‘Many of these may have correctly used the vaccine for the adolescent booster programme, or to complete infant vaccination with two doses.’

Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunisation, said: ‘When a vaccine programme is changed there may be some teething problems in the first year of implementation.

‘Currently, meningitis C disease is extremely rare in the UK, especially in children. The risk of Meningitis C disease in infants is, therefore, likely to be very low and the period of risk is short, even if they have only received a single dose of Meningitec.’

The glitch comes after the GPC met with senior Department of Health officials last year about problems over communication with practices on flu vaccine schedule changes.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair and co-lead on vaccinations and immunisations, said the error was not a safety concern but warned practices were finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with changes to the vaccine schedule.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘It isn’t a safety issue so much as it means the potential immunity may not be quite as good as it would otherwise be. It’s just a case of ensuring those children get the booster on time.’

He added: ‘The whole area of immunisation keeps changing – the way the immunisations are given, the frequency and the pattern of the immunisations and the supply, it’s a constantly moving target and it is hard to keep up with all the changes.

‘Practices receive so much information from so many different bodies at the moment and it is not surprising that some messages get missed. It’s important to keep repeating messages, keep messages straightforward and avoid bombarding practices with unnecessary messages so they focus on what is really important – so the key points are obvious and can be picked up very quickly.’