'Encouraging' results of first vaccine against meningitis B

The first vaccine against meningitis B has shown ‘encouraging’ results in preliminary trials.

Mass vaccination against meningitis C was added to the UK's childhood immunisation programme in 1999.

But no vaccine has yet been developed that could protect against the many strains of meningitis B, the cause of 72 per cent of all deaths from meningitis in Europe.

A total of 1,029 cases of meningitis B infections were recorded in England and Wales in the first 50 weeks of 2007, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

The potential new vaccine, developed by Novartis, contains multiple bacterial surface antigens that are believed to be found in most meningitis B strains responsible for the disease globally.

Over 85 different strains of the disease were examined during the development of the vaccine.

The vaccine was tested in 150 babies in the UK. Each child was immunised at two, four and six months of age, along with a fourth dose at 12 months of age.

The vaccine's protective response was tested against three strains of meningitis B.

After the children had received all four doses of the vaccine, they were found to be protected against 100 per cent, 98 per cent and 93 per cent of the three disease strains.

Study researcher Dr Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, described the results as ‘encouraging'.

‘These initial results from the UK show that the vaccine induces an immune response against strains containing the vaccine components.

‘The next step is to find how broad these responses are against other strains that cause diseases.'

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and a GP in Berkshire, said a vaccine against meningitis B would be extremely welcome and great news for parents.

‘As we have eliminated deaths from meningitis C, the next problem to tackle would be meningitis B.

‘If we can eliminate that, then we are almost there in preventing any deaths from meningitis.'

A DoH spokesman said: ‘The HPA is embarking on early studies on meningitis B vaccines. As results become available, the DoH will consider carefully the impact of strategic investment in such research if it would accelerate the availability of safe and effective vaccines.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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