Vaccine against killer strain of meningitis passes trials

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The Independent Online
A NEW set of vaccines against the fastest-growing strain of meningitis could be available in Britain next year, according to reports last night.

Doctors are said to be optimistic following the success of trials which showed the experimental vaccines were highly effective in providing protection for babies against the life-threatening C-strain.

A trial at the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) found that one dose of the vaccine gave 94 per cent protection in 226 children aged 12 to 17 months.

It is likely that babies would be given doses of the vaccine at two, three and four months old - along with other routine immunisations such as rubella, polio, measles and mumps.

Although a vaccine against the C-strain of meningitis does exist and is used to control some outbreaks, it is not effective in babies under 18 months and does not provide long-term protection in older children and adults.

However, doctors at a meeting last month of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health at York University were told that all 248 babies given doses of the vaccine at two, three and four months had complete protection at five months.

Strain-C is responsible for about 1,000 cases of meningitis and meningococcal septicemia (blood poisoning) - around one third of all bacterial meningitis infections - and was blamed for the virulent outbreaks of the brain disease last winter. Last year there were 2,537 cases of all strains of meningitis. The disease kills one in 10 sufferers.

The next step for the new vaccine is for its manufacturers to apply for a product licence and consideration by the Department of Health's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. "The committee will have to decide which vaccines should be introduced and when," said Dr Peter Richmond, clinical research fellow at the PHLS and paediatrician at the Institute of Child Health. "It could happen in 2000."

The vaccine may also be given to older children and teenagers in a nationwide "catch-up" programme designed to wipe out the disease.