MenC vaccination failures: why are some people unable to respond to the vaccine?

How long does immunity last?

Scientific version
  • Researchers:
    Dr Andrew Heath, Dr James Wing, Lynne Smart, Prof Ray Borrow, Prof Rob Read
  • Start Date:
    01 August 2007
  • Category:
  • Location:
    University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, Health Protection Agency North West, Vaccine Evaluation Unit, Manchester, UK
MenC vaccination failures:  why are some people unable to respond to the vaccine?

After vaccination with the MenC vaccine, people are protected by antibodies in the blood, nose and throat.  In addition, the body develops a memory response to the bacterial sugar coat, so that if meningococci appear in the nose and throat, the body remembers them and quickly makes antibodies for defence. 

These scientists have found that some adults (like some infants) do not have a prolonged antibody response, or a memory response, one year after MenC vaccination. The response to MenC is likely to be critically determined by the activity of immune cells, called B and T lymphocytes - and the communication that happens between them after they see a molecule that resembles the sugar coat of the group C meningococcus.  

Focusing on those adults who respond poorly to MenC vaccination, this project will look at the strength and degree of communication between their immune cells and how this affects protective antibody production and memory response. Understanding these mechanisms will help aid future development of improved meningococcal vaccines.


Results from the study have been published in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The MenC vaccine has been very successful since its introduction in 1999. However, studies by the Oxford Vaccine Group and the Health Protection Agency have shown that immunity levels fall rapidly after vaccination. This study, led by Professor Robert Read at the University of Sheffield, was funded to investigate the complex immune mechanisms that are behind this loss of protection.

The study looked at a group of 18 to 39 year olds and measured their immunity levels after vaccination with the MenC glycoconjugate vaccine. Results showed that up to a third of them had unprotective or low antibody responses one year after vaccination. After further investigation, researchers found that these people had developed an immune memory response but that it was too slow to protect against meningococcal C infection.

The results are important since they provide more evidence in the growing debate over whether a teenage booster to the MenC vaccine should be introduced. Currently children are given 3 doses of the MenC vaccine at 3, 4 and 12 months as they are in the most at risk age group for MenC disease. However, the second most at risk group is teenagers and young adults, and it is therefore very important that this age group is also protected.

You can read more about the proposed MenC teenage booster in our ‘Ask the Expert’ piece with Professor Andrew Pollard and Dr Matthew Snape.

Sue's son, Cieran, was severely affected by meningitis

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