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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 06:33 GMT


Health

Mass meningitis vaccination programme begins

The vaccine could prevent many deaths from the brain disease

The government has officially launched its meningitis vaccination programme, first targeting 15 to 17-year-olds and then babies.

Children around the UK are to become the first in the world to take part in routine vaccinations against the C strain of meningitis.

The meningitis file
The vaccine has already been tested on more than 4,000 British children and 21,000 children outside the UK.

The mass immunisation programme has also been piloted in Ironville, South Derbyshire, which has been particularly affected by the brain disease.


The BBC's Fergus Walsh: "One of the UK's biggest immunisation programmes"
Announcing the move in the House of Commons in July, then Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the programme will cut by half the number of outbreaks and deaths from the disease.

The new vaccine will initially be targeted at those most at risk:

  • Young people aged 15, 16 and 17
  • Babies aged two, three and four months when they get their routine diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib vaccine
  • Children aged 13 months when they get their first measles, mumps and rubella vaccine
  • Children aged over four months and under one year who will be specifically recalled

As more supplies become available children aged one to five will be the next to be vaccinated early next year, followed by children in other age groups.

The priority groups have been agreed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the National Meningitis Trust and the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Killer disease

Last year, the meningococcal group C infection affected more than 1,500 people and killed 150 of them, mainly children and young people.


Professor Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, speaking to the BBC's Today programme
About one in three of all British cases of the brain disease are caused by the C strain.

At least one in 10 of those who contracts meningitis C is killed by the disease.

The vaccine has been developed by three companies.

However, parents will have to remain alert for the symptoms of meningitis even when their child has been vaccinated, as there is still no vaccine against Group B meningococcal infection, although these cases tend to be more isolated in the UK.


GP, Dr Rosemary Leonard talking to the BBC's Today programme
The Meningitis Research Foundation says the immunisation programme will save lives since it is "much more effective than the one currently available".




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Internet Links


National Meningitis Trust

Meningitis Research Foundation

Department of Health


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