A new publicly funded scheme to vaccinate all newborn babies in the UK against Meningitis B has started this week.

The new programme, which is the first of its kind in the world, will see the meningitis B vaccine become part of routine immunisations and will be provided at the ages of two, four and twelve months.

The new vaccine will be provided in addition to the current vaccination against meningitis C which babies receive at 3 months old, and then again at 12 months, as a booster.

Babies under one are most at risk of contracting the disease, which is fatal to one in ten. However, it is hoped the new vaccine will significantly reduce the number of babies diagnosed to 4000 by 2025.

All babies born from May onwards will be able to receive the vaccine by taking part in a catch up programme.

 

“This vaccine will help to save lives and prevent permanent disability.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England

 

What is Meningitis?

“Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The infection causes these membranes (the meninges) to become inflamed, which in some cases can damage the nerves and brain.”

NHS Choices

There are two types of meningitis; bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis. Meningitis B is a type of bacterial meningitis that is much more serious than viral meningitis. There are many different strains of “meningococcal group B bacteria”. Medical trials for the new vaccine suggest it would be effective against 88% of the different strains.

 

What Are The Symptoms?

Meningitis is associated with large number of symptoms, often very similar to flu symptoms. If you suspect symptoms of meningitis, it is very important to act as quickly as possible, usually by attending A&E.

The symptoms are as follows:

  • High fever, cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting and a refusal to feed
  • Agitation and not wanting to be picked up
  • Drowsiness, floppiness and headaches
  • Grunting or rapid breathing
  • Unusual high-pitched or moaning cry
  • Pale, blotchy skin, and a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
  • Tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
  • Stiff neck and dislike for bright lights
  • Convulsions or seizures

 

Although medical professionals are hopeful about the success of this new vaccine, parents are still being urged to remain vigilant and make sure they know the signs and symptoms of meningitis.

While the new vaccine has been described as a “massive step forward” in the treatment of this harmful disease, there are still some types of meningitis that can’t be immunised against, so being self aware and knowing what to look out for is crucial.

If your baby is due to receive a meningitis B vaccination, health experts are advising parents to give liquid paracetamol after vaccination to reduce the risk of mild fever, which can last up to 48 hours afterwards.

If you are worried about meningitis or would like more information about the new Meningitis B vaccine, speak to your GP or pharmacist.