Britain has announced that it will be the first country to vaccinate all babies against the potentially fatal meningitis B.

The program, which will begin later this year, comes after long negotiations between the British government and drug manufacturers over costs, according to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

"I am very proud that we will be the first country in the world to have a nationwide MenB vaccination program, helping to protect our children from a devastating disease," he said.

Government advisors had recommended the vaccine for every child over 2 months of age last year. Negotiations were only recently concluded, allowing the drug to be added to the national childhood immunization program.

The government was in talks with Novartis, the developer of the Bexsero vaccine, before pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) acquired the vaccine from Novartis.

Hunt said he was "delighted" to have come to a decision with GSK. The company agreed to lower the price of Bexsero three weeks after acquiring it from Novartis, and to provide the vaccine to the National Health Service.

Under the vaccination program, babies will get an initial dose at two months, followed by two additional vaccinations.

Meningitis – a bacterial infection of the meninges, the lining around the brain and spinal cord – most commonly affects children and teenagers.

Symptoms can include high fever, confusion, headaches and vomiting, and if often initially mistaken for the flu. While most children will experience full recovery with early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment, the disease is still dangerous, fatal in around one in 10 cases.

"MenB can be severely disabling or fatal, especially in babies and young children," Hunt said. "Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare, so I am delighted that we have reached an agreement with GSK to supply the vaccine."

Health officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they were pleased at the outcome of the negotiations that will make the vaccine available.

Health campaigners were also quick to applaud the vaccine announcement.

"To know that babies will be protected against MenB is fantastic and another great step forward in our fight against meningitis," said Sue Davie, chief executive of Meningitis Now.

The United Kingdom sees around 1,800 cases of meningitis B every year, experts said.

Babies in the U.K. already get a vaccination for another form of the disease, meningitis C, and a booster is normally given at age 14.

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