The RCGP’s immunisation lead has warned practices could be stripped of payments for childhood vaccines after Department of Health advisers recommended a meningitis C vaccine dose should be moved from the infant schedule and replaced with a booster in teenagers.
The recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) comes after a study published last year demonstrated antibodies waned rapidly following infant vaccination and continued to decline into adolescence.
Currently infants receive two doses of meningitis C vaccine at three and four months of age, and a booster at 12 months with a catch-up campaign in the under 25s.
The committee said this campaign had been successful, but there was a need to protect young children through better herd immunity as individual protection ‘does not last long’.
‘JCVI concludes that herd immunity could be maintained by introducing a booster dose in older children to increase protective antibody levels,’ minutes conclude.
Experts from the committee said the change in national policy on meningitis vaccination would be ‘cost neutral’ and said they would present recommendations in future about when and how the change should be implemented to ensure that coverage is sufficiently high.
A Department of Health spokesperson suggested it was unlikely the adolescent dose would be delivered through schools, and said: ‘The advice from JCVI is preliminary and further work is needed before final recommendations can be made to Government.’
But Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation lead, warned the change could result in GPs losing out financially, claiming payments for meningitis – totalling 25% of GP vaccination payments for the under-twos – were at risk.
He said: ‘The adolescent meningococcal C booster will almost certainly be transferred to the school services. Is this arrangement for payment going to remain the same for one dose of the vaccine?’
Dr Anthony Harnden, a GP in Wheatley, Oxfordshire and member of the JCVI, said a booster dose was required in adolescence because of evidence of ‘waning immunity after infant vaccination.’
‘Following immunisation adolescents develop higher antibody levels which last for longer. Also there would be protection from herd immunity in this age group,’ he said.