Meningitis vaccine could save thousands of young lives

Research directly influencing the Department of Health’s decision to introduce a vaccine against meningitis B into the routine immunisation schedule for all babies in the UK could avert over 4,400 cases of meningococcal disease in England over the next 10 years.

Meningitis is a leading infectious cause of death in infants and an important public health problem in the UK. The disease can progress very rapidly even with appropriate medical care and can leave survivors with severe disabling after-effects including amputation, skin scarring and neurological defects. Vaccination is therefore key to prevention.

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called the meningococcus of which there are five main disease causing groups. A vaccine against group C was successfully introduced in the routine immunisation schedule in 1999 but most cases of the disease were caused by group B and until recently a broadly protective vaccine was not available.

In 2007, when the MenB vaccine was still in clinical trials, a research team led by Dr Hannah Christensen (School of Social and Community Medicine) developed new mathematical models to predict the number of meningococcal disease cases which could be averted by introducing the vaccine Bexsero. The models developed by the Bristol team were the first to comprehensively assess the potential impact of the Bexsero vaccine by preventing carriage and transmission of the bacteria, as well as disease. The team also estimated the maximum price the Government should pay for the vaccine to provide value for money to the NHS.

Throughout this process the Bristol team worked closely with Public Health England and their work directly influenced the Department of Health’s decision to introduce the new vaccine into the routine immunisation schedule. The meningitis B immunisation programme - the first of its kind in the world — has now launched in the UK for all babies born after 1st July 2015.

The final model developed by the research team predicts that if the disease incidence over the next ten years is the same as over the last ten years, the vaccination strategy will avert over 4,400 cases of meningococcal diseasein England.

The UK model structure is also informing the decision making about use of the Bexsero vaccine in Germany, Belgium and Ireland.

Further information

In recognition, Dr Hannah Christensen and Professor Matt Hickman were awarded the University of Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Award in 2015 and in Sept 2016, the External Partnership in Action Award, which acknowledged the partnership between Public Health England and Dr Hannah Christensen

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