Data from Public Health England shows that there has been a slight increase in cases of MenC in babies in England since a dose of the MenC vaccine was removed from the infant immunisation schedule.
While cases are still very rare, Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is reminding public health officials that case numbers are real people and families and we need them to have a clear plan.
The MenC vaccine was introduced in 1999 and successfully reduced cases from thousands to around 30-40 each year in the UK.
Until July 2016, the first dose of the MenC vaccine for babies was offered at 12 weeks of age. Due to the success of the vaccine, cases of MenC in babies became very uncommon and this dose of the vaccine was removed from the NHS routine immunisation schedule, following advice to government from experts at the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The first dose of MenC vaccine is now routinely offered for children after their first birthday, followed by a booster dose for teenagers as part of the MenACWY vaccine.
Immunisation of teenagers against MenC since 2013 was forecast to maintain protection for all age groups by dramatically reducing the amount of MenC bacteria in circulation. 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 other people. Vaccinating teenagers against MenC prevents them carrying and spreading the bacteria so other age groups are less likely to get the disease – an effect known as herd protection.
Additionally a MenB vaccine was introduced for babies in September 2015, with a first dose offered for babies at two months of age. Research shows the MenB vaccine should provide protection against some types of MenC disease too.
Vinny Smith, Chief Executive at MRF said, “We are obviously very concerned about the reported rise in MenC cases in the past two years. This has coincided with the period since the withdrawal of the dose for infants at three months old and we have raised this with public health bodies on behalf of patients and families who have rightly expressed their worries too.
“Public health experts have told us they are monitoring the situation closely and that despite an increase in cases of MenC, the number of MenC cases in infants still remains low. The advice that public health bodies have given us is that the increase in the number of cases they have seen is likely to be an extremely unusual event.
“We are reminding them that case numbers are real people and families and we need them to take action. We haven’t yet been given a clear answer from government or officials about next steps, which is unacceptable. While experts believe there won’t be further increases in MenC we want them to have a clear plan to ensure this doesn’t happen, and detailing when and how they would reintroduce the vaccine.
“MRF is campaigning to ensure that any NHS meningitis vaccine programme offers the maximum protection against meningitis for everyone. We have also called for greater transparency from government bodies so it is clear how and why vaccines decisions are made.”
For a long time MRF has called for a reform of the cost effectiveness rules that put vaccines that prevent uncommon, severe childhood disease like meningitis at a disadvantage.
There is currently a UK government consultation on a report about the way decisions are made about vaccines. MRF has been asked to respond to the consultation and represent public views. Find out more about that here.
MRF encourages everyone to take up the offer of the vaccines that are included in the immunisation schedule. Most young adults aged between 18 and 22 are eligible to get the MenACWY vaccine to protect themselves and others against four types of meningococcal disease, Men A, C, W and Y. This vaccine is free of charge until they reach 25. Many still haven’t got it. We encourage them to check their eligibility for this free vaccine .