Germ warfare

A new vaccine is taking the fight to beat meningitis. We look at how it works and its chances of success

A new campaign to fight meningitis has hit the headlines with a national programme featuring a fresh vaccine to fight strains of the virus in the under-fives. The launch follows the introduction of a similar initiative to safeguard students at schools and colleges. So, what do you need to know about the new move? And in a wider context, how do you spot, and then act, if you suspect this deadly disease has struck a loved one or friend? The first of the two new vaccines targets Meningitis B and was introduced on 1 September aimed at protecting babies from the strain of bacteria that has been deadly for more than three decades. The vaccine will be given to babies at two, four and 12 months old as part of routine immunisations. The second vaccine is for teenagers and targets protection against Meningitis W, which has started to rise dramatically in university students. All teenagers aged 14 and over should be offered a one-off dose of Meningitis ACWY, which will give then a protection for at least five years.


Children under the age of 5 are at most risk of contracting the Meningitis B bacterial infection. Out of this group, babies under one year are the most susceptible as their own immune systems are still developing. There are hundreds of strains of meningococcal group B bacteria and trials have shown that the vaccine is effective against nearly 90 per cent of them. The importance of this breakthrough vaccine can’t be underestimated as the infection is not only deadly to 20 per cent of all under fives who contract it but leaves the remaining 80 per cent who survive with serious disabilities, including brain damage. The new vaccine has only been introduced for all babies born after 1 May this year, so leaving out the majority of children under the age of five. The Government has stated that the vaccine is too expensive – a decision which experts have criticised as a false economy. Campaigners say the vaccine could prevent up to 4,000 cases by 2025. A catch-up programme will also target babies born since May who have missed the first jabs. If all under fives were vaccinated then the condition could almost be eradicated within a year, however the decision taken by the Government means it will take at least five years to have a major impact.


Vaccinating against meningitis has proved very successful in eradicating or reducing cases of meningitis due to Hib (introduced 1992) and Meningitis C (cases are so few now that the Joint Committee on Vaccinations has advised taking the vaccine off the schedule). Vaccinations have proven time and time again to be effective, but only if enough people take them up – so it is in everyone’s interest to have vaccinations offered on the NHS schedule. If your child is not eligible for the new vaccine then it is possible to obtain it privately, though this is an option not within everyone’s reach! Christopher Head, of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Despite this welcome progress we must remind everyone there are still some forms of the disease which are not covered by vaccines so it is vital that people are still aware of the symptoms of meningitis and septicemia.”


  • Headache & vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Cold hands & feet
  • Rash of tiny red pinpricks (which doesn’t fade when pressing a glass against it)


Thanks to Dr Sarj Bahia, medical director & principal GP at Edgbaston Private Medical Practice, tel 0121 454 9535 for information used in this article