Meningococcal bacteria are a leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia across the globe. Six groups of meningococcal bacteria cause the most disease globally. These are groups:
- A (MenA)
- B (MenB)
- C (MenC)
- W (MenW)
- X (MenX)
- Y (MenY)
For decades meningococcal C (MenC) and meningococcal B (MenB) have been the most common causes of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland.
MenC vaccines have been routinely available in the UK and Ireland since the turn of the century but a vaccine that protects against MenB has been introduced in these countries much more recently.
Since 2009 there has been an increase in a particularly virulent strain of meningococcal W (MenW) meningitis and septicaemia and a teenage MenACWY vaccination programme was introduced in 2015 to combat this.
Vaccines that protect against meningococcal C (MenC) have been routinely used in the UK since 1999 and in Ireland since 2000.
The MenC vaccine has dramatically reduced cases of disease. Before the vaccine was introduced MenC meningitis and septicaemia killed about 150 people in the UK every year. Now there are just a handful of cases annually.
In the UK babies are immunised with MenC containing vaccine at 12 months of age as a combined Hib/MenC vaccine. A routine booster dose is also being given at around 14 years of age as a combined MenACWY vaccine.
In Ireland babies are immunised with MenC vaccine at 4 and 13 months of age with a booster dose at 12-13 years.
Changes to the meningococcal C (MenC) meningitis and septicaemia vaccination programme in the UK
Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine is routinely given to babies in the UK and Ireland at 2, 14 and 12 months.
The vaccine was introduced to the UK schedule in September 2015 and to the Irish schedule in December 2016.
The MenB vaccine has been shown to be working well following its introduction to UK infants, with cases of MenB halving in vaccine eligible age groups ten months after the vaccine was introduced.
More about MenB vaccine
MenACWY vaccine for teenagers
Since 2015 UK teenagers have been routinely offered the MenACWY vaccine at around 14 years of age in response to a rapid rise in a particularly deadly strain of MenW disease.
There was also a catch up programme to immunise everyone who was aged 14-18 in 2015, but uptake of the vaccine in older teenagers has been worryingly low.
More about the teenage MenACWY vaccination
Check your eligibility for the vaccine here
MenACWY vaccine for travellers and pilgrims
As a result of epidemics of meningococcal disease being linked to the Hajj in the past, vaccination with MenACWY is now an entry requirement to Saudi Arabia for pilgrims on Hajj or Umrah. It is also recommended as a travel vaccine for certain destinations.
More about MenACWY vaccination for travellers and pilgrims