Vaccinate teenagers against meningitis, say DH advisers

Millions of teenagers may be set to routinely receive a 'booster' dose of the meningitis C vaccine following recommendations from government advisers.

DH: new advice from the joint committee on vaccines and immunisation.
DH: new advice from the joint committee on vaccines and immunisation.

A dose of the meningococcal C conjugate (MenC) vaccine currently given to infants should be withdrawn and an extra dose given to adolescents to boost immunity into early adulthood instead, the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) advised.

If approved by ministers, the switch would be the most significant change to the routine vaccination programme since it began in the UK in 1999.

The committee said the level of protection among infants vaccinated against meningitis C at three, four and twelve months of age significantly wanes within four years.

Research has shown that children immunised when aged 10 years or over will maintain far higher levels of immunity into at least early adulthood.

The existing vaccination campaign has dramatically reduced cases of invasive meningococcal disease by both vaccination and herd immunity, the JCVI said.

This effect could be maintained and strengthened by routinely vaccinating adolescents, it concluded.

It said that evidence had showed one dose of the MenC vaccine was sufficient to protect infants.

So while a dose of vaccine for adolescents should be introduced, one for infants should be removed to keep changes to the vaccination programme 'cost neutral', it advised.

It asked a sub-committee to examine exactly when this dose should be given.

In 2010, a study by Oxford University researchers found that three quarters of children vaccinated against meningitis C had lost protection by early teens.

At the time, they recommended a booster jab for adolescents may be needed.

The MenC vaccination programme was introduced into the routine childhood immunisation programme in 1999.

A catchup programme for children and young people aged between one year and under 18 years was undertaken in 1999-2001.

Since 2002, the vaccine has been offered to everyone under 25 years old in the UK who have not yet received the vaccine. Students entering a full-time undergraduate university course that have not been immunised are asked to get the MenC vaccine from their GP beforehand.

However, Tuesday's announcement is the first time the JCVI has recommended adolescents are added to the routine programme.

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