Starting Sept. 1, babies across the UK will be given a new vaccine to protect them against meningitis B as part of their routine immunization.
The vaccine will be first offered to infants born starting July 1, followed by another dose at four months and finally a booster shot at 12 months. Throughout September, a catch-up program will also be in place for babies due to receive their three- and four-month vaccinations. The meningitis B vaccine program was delayed because of cost disputes but now that it is being enforced, it is the first publicly funded effort in the world against the infection.
Test results suggest that Bexsero, the new vaccine, has the ability to protect against about 90 percent of meningococcal group B bacterial strains in the UK, which not only cause meningitis but septicaemia, or blood poisoning, as well.
About 1,200 people get sick with meningitis B every year, with 1 in 10 dying and survivors ending up living with permanent disabilities. Majority of those who acquire the infection are babies and children.
According to Christopher Head, Meningitis Research Foundation chief executive, the new vaccine has the potential to prevent as many as 4,000 cases of the infection in children under five years old in the UK. He is hopeful the vaccine will indeed save lives, sparing countless families from the pain of losing a loved one to the disease or seeing them seriously disabled as a result of getting sick.
However, Head also wants to remind the public there are remains other forms of meningitis B that are not addressed by vaccines. As such, it is still crucial that people, particularly parents, understand the warning signs of meningitis and septicaemi.
Men ACWY, another meningitis vaccine, is being offered to 17- and 18-year-olds as well as students going away to college this year.
Symptoms of meningitis in young children and babies include a fever, refusing to feed, vomiting, unresponsiveness or drowsiness, a high-pitched moaning cry, rapid breathing, a stiff neck, and a rash that doesn't go away when glass is rolled over it.
About a quarter of infants develop mild fevers within 48 hours of receiving their usual vaccination schedule. With the new vaccine added, it is expected that up to 60 percent of infants will develop fevers as a reaction.
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