The Department of Health has announced a new vaccination against a deadly form of meningitis, claiming it will save the lives of at least 30 children under two each year and prevent severe disability in many more.
A routine vaccine against pneumococcal meningitis will be introduced alongside the existing schedule of vaccinations against meningitis C and Hib (haemophilus influenzae type b).
Although pneumococcal meningitis is rarer than other forms in the UK, it is more life-threatening, and children under two are particular risk. Around 180 children are infected each year, and it is estimated that more than 30 of these die from the disease, and further 45 suffer severe after effects such as deafness and cerebral palsy.
Pneumococcal meningitis is caused by a common bacteria carried by around 60 per cent of children. The bacteria can cause a range of relatively minor symptoms, including earache. But in some cases it can progress to severe meningitis, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and pneumonia.
The pneumococcal vaccine will be given to babies at two, three and 13 months. A similar vaccination programme in the US has seen cases in young children fall by 94 per cent.
Chief medical officer Liam Donaldson said that the UK programme would make a huge impact. “The new vaccine will save lives and prevent hundreds more cases of serious illness and disability, as well as reducing the need for medical care,” he said.
National charity the Meningitis Research Foundation welcomed the news. Chief executive Denise Vaughan said: “We have been campaigning for many years for the pneumococcal vaccine to be introduced. We know it will save many young lives.”
It was also announced that booster vaccinations against Hib and meningitis C will be given to one-year-olds to extend existing protection.