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Meningitis C cut by three quarters

A new vaccine, launched last year to combat a strain of meningitis, has cut the incidence of cases of the deadly brain disease by three quarters in its first three months.

The vaccine against meningitis C - the fastest growing strain - was introduced last November and targeted initially at teenagers aged 15 to 17, who are at highest risk. Immunisation is expected to cover all children under five by the summer.

The impact on the disease was immediate. Figures published by the Department of Health yesterday show that there were 16 cases of meningitis C in 15 to 17-year-olds from the beginning of December to the middle of March where 70 cases were expected.

Cases in children under 12 months showed a similar decline, with 10 reported cases compared with 37 expected.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, head of the vaccination team Dr David Salisbury said an estimated 127 cases of Group C meningitis had been avoided since last autumn and about 13 deaths had been prevented.

Yvette Cooper, the health minister, said: "We are the first country in the world to have this new vaccine and it has already cut the winter cases of meningococcal Group C disease in the immunised groups by around 75 per cent.

"This new vaccine puts the UK in the forefront of tackling this devastating disease."

Despite a decline in vaccination rates, reports suggest that take up of the new meningitis vaccine has been high.

Ms Cooper said the Government aimed to offer the vaccine to everyone under the age of 18 by autumn, a target of 15 million children.