Vaccination is the only way to prevent meningitis. Effective vaccines are available to prevent some types of bacterial meningitis. In the absence of vaccines for all types of meningitis it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia and being prepared to rake action is vital.
Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) introduced into the UK Childhood Immunisation Programme 4th September 2006
From the 4th September every child starting their routine immunisations at two months of age will be offered the PCV, with doses being given at two, four and thirteen months of age. A catch-up programme is also planned which, will mean that every child aged up to two years old will also be offered PCV from September until early 2007.
The new immunisation schedule is as follows:
2 months DTaP/IPV/Hib + pneumococcal vaccine
3 months DTaP/IPV/Hib + MenC vaccine
4 months DTaP/IPV/Hib + MenC + pneumococcal vaccine
12 months Hib/Men C*
13 months MMR + pneumococcal vaccine
DTaP/IPV/Hib is a single injection that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Hib.
MenC protects against meningococcal group C meningitis
Hib/ MenC is a combined vaccine protecting against Hib and meningococcal group C
*The immunisation schedule has changed to include one extra visit at 12 months. A booster dose of MenC and Hib will now be given to provide adequate long term protection.
The PCV protects against 7 different types of pneumococcal bacteria which account for 82% of invasive disease (including meningitis) in the UK under 5s. PCV has been used in the United States since 2000 with over 30 million children receiving the vaccine. It has shown an excellent safety record and so far has provided long-term protection against pneumococcal disease. In the United States PCV has not only significantly reduced disease in vaccinated children but has also helped reduce disease in the non-vaccinated population.
PCV has been licensed in the UK and Republic of Ireland since 2001 and given to children under 5 who are considered to be at increased risk.
PCV is not currently included in the Childhood Immunisation Schedule for the Republic of Ireland. The Meningitis Trust is currently campaigning for its introduction and you can add your support by clicking here.
UK and Republic of Ireland
A Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine is available. This protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria, but only has a limited period of protection, and is not effective in the under 2s. This vaccine is routinely offered to people aged 65 years and over. It is also recommended for adults and children over the age of 5 years who are at increased risk of pneumococcal disease. This vaccine should also be given in addition to the PCV for at risk children aged 2 to 5 years, as it offers protection against more strains of pneumococcal bacteria.
Increased Risk Factors
• Serious breathing problems, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema
• Serious heart conditions
• Severe kidney disease
• Long term liver disease
• Diabetes that needs medication
• Cochlear implants
• Cerebrospinal fluid leaks, such as following trauma or major skull injury
• Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment, for example, chemotherapy or radio therapy treatment for cancer or long-term steroid conditions such as asthma; and problems with the spleen, either because the spleen has been removed (asplenia) or doesn’t work properly, for example, sickle cell disease
Pneumococcal bacteria can cause meningitis, and less commonly septicaemia (blood poisoning). The risk is highest in babies and children under 18 months of age, but meningitis can affect anyone. For more information about pneumococcal meningitis please click here.
Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening infection. It is a term used to describe two major illnesses – meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). It is caused by a bacterium called the meningococcus, of which there are five main groups that commonly cause disease – A, B, C, W135, and Y. In the UK and Republic of Ireland group B now causes the majority of disease.
An effective conjugate vaccine for meningococcal Group C disease (MenC), has been part of the Childhood Immunisation Programme since 1999. MenC has dramatically reduced the number of cases of group C disease by around 95% in all age groups. From September 2006 MenC vaccine will now be given at 3 and 4 months of age with a booster at 12 months to provide adequate long term protection.
No vaccine is yet available for group B disease in the UK and Republic of Ireland. It is likely that an effective vaccine is some years away.
Meningococcal travel vaccines are also available for people visiting parts of the world where they are at risk of developing disease. A polysaccharide vaccine offering protection for meningococcal groups A, C, W135 and Y is now a legal requirement for Hajj pilgrims travelling to Mecca. For more information about travel vaccines consult your GP practice.
Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)
An effective vaccine against Hib disease has been part of the Childhood Immunisation Programme since 1992. Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under 5 years of age. There were around 800 cases and 25 deaths reported each year. This vaccine has almost eliminated Hib meningitis with around 40 cases reported each year. From September 2006 Hib vaccine will now be given at 2, 3 and 4 months of age with a booster at 12 months to provide adequate long term protection.
Vaccines and viral meningitis
Some viruses that cause diseases such as measles and mumps, can also cause meningitis. The routine MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German Measles). Before its introduction, mumps was the most common cause of viral meningitis in children.
To download a copy of ‘Meningitis Vaccines – The Facts’ please click here (PDF 375KB)
For further information about vaccines and the Childhood Immunisation Programme please click here.
Meningococcal – most disease in Australia is caused by groups B and C. Several combined vaccines have been available for some years (groups A & C vaccine and groups A, C, W135 and Y vaccine). They are recommended for people travelling to areas of the world where these groups are common. They are ineffective in children under 18 months of age and provide short-term protection (around 3 years) in older children and adults.
A more effective vaccine for Group C, which gives long-term protection, is now available on private prescription. This vaccine gives protection only against Group C. In January 2003 it was announced that the meningococcal C vaccination will be made available free of charge to all 1-19 year olds over the next four years. People outside of those age groups can receive the vaccine on private prescription.
Effective vaccines for Group B are still some years away.
Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) – an effective vaccine against Hib disease was introduced into the childhood immunisation programme. This has almost eliminated Hib meningitis. This vaccine does not protect against any other types of meningitis.
Pneumococcal – a vaccine to protect against pneumococcal meningitis is available on private prescription. It is recommended for those at a particularly high risk – those with sickle cell disease, thalassemia or whose spleen has been removed, the elderly and others affected by illnesses such as diabetes. This vaccine protects against other pneumococcal infections including pneumonia and ear infections. A new more effective conjugate vaccine has now been endorsed as part of the Immunisation Handbook for children aged between 6 weeks and 9 years. This vaccine is available free of charge to high risk groups (see above).
Vaccines effective against groups A, C, W135 and Y are available in New Zealand. A vaccine against A & C can be given to people travelling to areas of the world where these groups commonly occur. It is effective in about 80% of those who receive it, but it is not effective in children under the age of 18 months and only offers protection for about three years.
A strain specific meningococcal B vaccine (MeNZB) has been developed and is being implemented from July 2004. For more information on the immunisation programme visit the Meningitis Trust’s New Zealand website at www.hadb.org.uk.nz/