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Meningococcal B vaccine should be given to babies ‘at earliest opportunity’

Experts say there is a growing case for including a new meningococcal B vaccine at the ‘earliest opportunity‘ in the infant immunisation schedule after the first wide-scale trial showed good results.

The first large scale phase three trial of a meningococcal B vaccine confirmed the immunogenicity of meningococcal B vaccine in children, but questions remained about efficacy against infections and febrile adverse effects.

The Lancet study found the initial course of vaccine produced adequate antibody responses in 84% to 100% of children. Antibody responses were seen in 95 to 100% of children after the booster dose.

The study comes as European authorities licensed the first meningitis B vaccine for use in individuals from two months of age and older.

Finnish researchers assessed the effect of a Novartis vaccine against four meningococcal B strains when given to more than 1100 infants at two, four, and six months of age and after a booster dose given at 12 months of age.

The Men B vaccine had ‘no clinically relevant interference’ with other routine vaccines given concomitantly, but it did increase the reactogenicity, with 77% of children showing febrile reactions after having the meningococcal B vaccine with other vaccines, and two cases of febrile seizures and two cases of Kawasaki disease in children who received the vaccine.

They concluded: ‘This breakthrough vaccine offers an innovative solution to the major remaining cause of bacterial meningitis in infant and toddlers.’

An accompanying commentary article by UK specialists said the imminent licensing of the vaccine is a ‘momentous’ step, although questions remained about its adverse effects.

Dr Anthony Harnden, a GP in Oxford and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, but speaking in a personal capacity, said the new development was ‘exciting’.

He said: ‘There is certainly a case to be made for inclusion of meningococcal B vaccine on the childhood immunisation schedule at the earliest opportunity.

‘Meningococcal B disease causes considerable morbidity and mortality especially in young children, it has devastating impact. So there is a very strong case for a vaccine to be made available on the schedule.

‘In the study the vaccine did cause some febrile reactions and we don’t want a vaccine to disrupt the effects of other vaccines, so there are still issues to work through with the vaccine.  

‘The JVCI will certainly be looking at this new data I am sure there will be a meningococcal B vaccine on the schedule at some point in the future.’

Dr Nelly Ninis, a consultant in general paediatrics at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, said: ‘Anyone who has dealt with the medical problem of meningococcal disease would like to see this on the infant [immunisation] schedule.

‘It’s not just about the children who die but also the children who survive with horrible complications from meningitis and septicaemia.’

Story updated at 12:43 22/01/13