NHS launches new meningitis vaccine
Parents will be able to get their children vaccinated against more types of meningitis from Thursday as a new jab is launched on the NHS.
Experts predict thousands of lives could be saved by the new vaccine, which protects against 13 strains of the disease rather than seven previously.
Prevenar 13 will form part of the the NHS childhood immunisation programme - and the UK is one of the first countries in the world to introduce it.
It will offer greater protection against pneumococcal meningitis, the most deadly form of bacterial meningitis. One in five cases of bacterial meningitis leads to death while 25% of those who survive are left with serious effects including brain damage, hearing and sight loss.
Sue Davie, chief executive of support charity the Meningitis Trust, said: "We see firsthand the trauma and devastation that the disease can cause. With meningitis killing more children under five than any other infectious disease in the UK, introducing this improved vaccine into the childhood immunisation programme is a very positive step forward."
Steve Dayman, chief executive of research charity Meningitis UK, said: "Tremendous progress has been made in the field of research over the last 20 years and this vaccine is another landmark in our journey towards eradicating meningitis. While the new vaccine will doubtlessly save thousands of lives, it's important to remain vigilant as there is still no vaccine to protect against all forms of meningitis - including Meningitis B."
Early signs of meningitis are similar to cold and flu. Classic symptoms include headache, stiff neck and a dislike of bright light, while others are difficulty supporting your own weight, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, confusion and drowsiness.
Under-fives and those aged 15 to 25 are most at risk, particularly if their immune system is weakened. Around 300 people die from bacterial meningitis each year in the UK and it affects around 3,000 people in total. Viral meningitis, on the other hand, is generally a milder form of the disease.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "This vaccine will provide greater protection to children and marks yet another improvement this Government has made to our world-class childhood immunisation programme. The programme has been very successful in protecting children against serious diseases, and has drastically reduced instances of illnesses and death."
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: "The UK is one of the first countries in Europe to take delivery of this improved vaccine. Parents do not need to take any action, except continuing to have their children vaccinated as normal - every day counts when it comes to protecting children against these diseases."