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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 10:26 GMT
Meningitis vaccine scheme extended
Syringe
The vaccine has cut the meningitis death toll
A programme to immunise young people in Northern Ireland against the C strain of meningitis has been extended.

The vaccine, which has already had a huge impact on reducing the number of meningitis C cases in children and young adults, will now be made available to anyone under 25.

Previously only those under 18 were able to to get the vaccine.


This is the peak time of the year to acquire a meningitis infection

Dr Lorraine Doherty

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland extended the programme, after figures showed an increase in the numbers of young people between 20 and 24 contracting the virus.

Senior Medical Officer Dr Lorraine Doherty said vaccination could help protect against this particular strain.

"Meningitis is a very serious disease which can affect anyone in any age group," she said.

"As we know, the incidence is increasing in the 20-24 age group.

"We advise anybody in that age group who has not already received the vaccine to receive it as soon as possible.

"This is the peak time of the year to acquire a meningitis infection and meningitis type C can be protected against if you get your vaccine now."

The vaccine has been highly effective in preventing group C meningitis and septicaemia in the under-20 age group since its introduction in 1999.

However, the overall risk of contracting meningococcal infection is still said to be twice as high in people aged between 20 and 24 as it is in the rest of the adult population.

Deaths

The vaccination campaign, which is part of the routine UK childhood immunisation programme, is being widened on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It will be available to everyone in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The British Medical Association welcomed the initiative.

Extending the vaccination programme is expected to lead to a similar dramatic decrease in cases of group C meningitis and septicaemia in 20 to 24-year-olds.

In 1998, before the vaccine was introduced, the meningococcal group C bacterium caused an estimated 1,530 cases of meningitis and/or septicaemia and 150 deaths, mainly in children and young people.

In the first nine months of 1999, before the immunisation campaign started, there were 551 confirmed cases of group C meningococcal infection and 47 deaths.

In the same period of 2001 there were 79 confirmed cases of group C meningococcal infection and three deaths.

See also:

03 Jan 01 | Health
Brain disease 'wiped out'
03 Jan 01 | Health
Q&A: Meningitis vaccine success
31 Jan 00 | Health
The meningitis files
16 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Infectious diseases rise
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