The Department of Health (DH) has announced a call for researchers to conduct a national study to evaluate the effect of the MenB vaccine in preventing adolescents from carrying the meningococcal B bacteria.
The public health minister committed to funding this study in April 2016 following a major public petition and campaign. Although the commitment was made, the £1.3 million fund for the teenage evaluation has only now been announced and a confirmed mechanism set out so that the study can take place.
In the UK, teenagers are more likely to carry the meningococcal bacteria in the back of their nose and throat than any other age group and they can spread it to others.
Meningococcal B infection has for decades been the single largest cause of life-threatening meningitis in the UK.
Introducing the MenB vaccine for babies in 2015 was a major step forward and evidence shows that it is doing an excellent job of reducing MenB cases in the under-ones. However, only about one quarter of all cases occur in the under ones, leaving older age groups unprotected from this deadly disease. Vaccinating babies will have no impact on MenB infection in older age groups because babies do not carry the bacteria.
The new government funded national study will evaluate whether vaccinating teenagers against MenB could prevent them carrying and spreading the infection to others, thus potentially protecting the whole population.
The lessons learned from this research will show whether an adolescent MenB vaccination should be introduced into the national immunisation programme.
A study at the University of Bristol, funded by MRF, is almost completed, investigating new sampling techniques and providing key evidence to enable effective design of the government’s large-scale study.
Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of MRF said, “Meningitis and septicaemia are deadly diseases that can kill or disable people in just a few hours. We’re delighted that this study has been given the go ahead. Our research and campaigning contributed to the adoption of the MenB vaccine in the UK for babies and the government commitment to backing this study. We hope that the findings from this study will mean that the wider population can also finally be protected from MenB.
“Another commitment made by ministers in April 2016 was to publish a report on the methodology for assessing vaccine cost-effectiveness. At the moment, vaccines that prevent rare but severe illness in children are at a disadvantage. A draft report was produced in May, but MRF is still waiting for the public consultation on the findings from this report to help create fair rules.”