Following last week's case of 10 month old Kia Gott from West Yorkshire, having been very severely affected by septicaemia caused by meningococcal C (MenC) infection, here is a reminder of the changes made to the UK's MenC immunisation schedule.
Meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal C (MenC) bacteria are life-threatening illnesses which affect mainly babies, young children and teenagers.
Vaccines which protect against MenC are routinely given to children at 12-13 months of age with a booster dose for teenagers at 14 years.
The UK MenC vaccination programme has been a huge success. Before the MenC vaccine was introduced in 1999 there were over 1000 cases of disease every year. Nowadays we only see around 40 of cases of MenC each year.
How has the MenC vaccination programme changed?
The vaccination schedule has undergone various changes over the years. The most recent change was in in July 2016 when the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that the MenC dose given to babies at 3 months of age should be removed.
The JCVI are an expert group who make recommendations to government about who should receive routine vaccinations and when with the aim of providing the best possible protection through the smallest number of vaccines given at the most effective times.
In 2013 the MenC vaccination programme was amended to provide a teenage dose at around 14 years of age. Immunising teenagers protects the wider population by dramatically reducing transmission of the disease causing bacteria amongst all age groups. This is because the vaccine stops people from carrying the bacteria and teenagers are much more likely to carry this bacteria than any other age group.
By immunising teenagers, babies are indirectly protected by being much less likely to be exposed to disease causing bacteria. Additionally a MenB vaccine was introduced for babies in September 2015, which research shows should provide protection against some types of MenC disease.
Does removing the infant vaccine at 3 months put babies under 1 at risk?
UK vaccination programmes are constantly monitored to ensure that they provide the best possible protection for all ages.
There have been cases of MenC disease in babies since the vaccine has been removed, but the risk of disease remains very low in this age group because the risk of exposure to the bug has been dramatically decreased as a result of immunising teenagers.
How can I protect myself and my family?
We encourage everyone to take up the vaccines that are made available to them on the NHS.
It is particularly important for teenagers to make sure that they are vaccinated. Not only does immunising this age group prevent the spread of the bacteria, but it also provides direct protection to this high risk group. Most people aged between the ages of 14 to 20 are eligible for MenC containing vaccine and it is possible to check if and how to get it here.
The risk of MenC disease amongst babies remains low, but there are additional causes of meningitis and septicaemia amongst all age groups which are not vaccine preventable so a good way to protect yourself and others from meningitis is by making yourself aware of the signs and symptoms here.