In response to a recent announcement by the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), the Meningitis Research Foundation welcomed the news that the government has accepted the JCVIs recommendation to introduce a program for 14 – 18 year olds to combat the continued increase in the number of cases of meningococcal W (MenW) meningitis and septicemia.

Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström
Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström

Last week the Health Protection Report, published by Public Health England, showed that MenW has been rising very steeply since 2009 and is accelerating.

While the rise was initially seen in adults, it has now extended to all age groups and, for the first time in a decade, young children have died as a result of MenW. A rise in cases in students has also been observed.

The recommendation from the JCVI is to use the MenACWY vaccine in for teenagers. Currently this vaccine is only recommended for travel abroad or for people with severe immune deficiencies

Chris Head, CEO of Meningitis Research Foundation said: “We applaud the quick action by the government to protect 14 -18 year-olds using the MenACWY vaccine.

“However it will take more than a year for this protection to filter through to toddlers and infants by immunity, and in the meantime under-fives will still be dying and disabled as a result of MenW. But the Bexsero vaccine, mainly regarded as a meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine, also provides protection against MenW and would provide more immediate protection for babies and toddlers.

“This weighs even further in favor of Bexsero being introduced into the routine schedule as quickly as possible. Bexsero was recommended for inclusion in the childhood immunisation schedule by the JCVI nearly a year ago and we are currently pushing heavily for its introduction through our #WheresOurVaccine campaign.”

The Meningitis Research Foundation says, according to their genome library, the rise is due to a particularly virulent ST-11 strain of meningitis serogroup W.  The rise in this ST-11 MenW disease is particularly alarming because it is striking mainly healthy people across all age groups, with a marked spike amongst teenagers. The strain is associated with severe illness which often requires treatment in intensive care and has a higher associated death rate than other strains of meningococcal disease, (13% case fatality compared to 5-10%).