A vaccine to protect babies against the devastating Meningitis B is to be made available in Northern Ireland, it has been confirmed today (Sunday).
Health Minister Jim Wells has announced that he has signed off on a Meningitis B (Men B) vaccine to be included as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme.
The announcement follows the conclusion of negotiations between the Department of Health in England and the vaccine manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline to secure the Men B vaccine at a cost effective price.
From March 2014 until March 2015, the Department of Health was in negotiations with GSK.
Agreement on the price per dose was reached on 25 March 2015.
It now means that, once the Men B immunisation programme is introduced, all infants will be offered Men B vaccination at two, four and 12 months of age as recommended by the JCVI.
Mr Wells said: “Men B is an extremely serious illness that can cause devastating consequences. It can lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning) and around one in every 10 such cases is fatal.
“Sadly, it is infants and children aged under five years who are most affected. Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment can lead to a full recovery, but about one in eight cases experience long-term health problems, such as amputation, deafness, epilepsy and/or learning difficulties.
“I very much welcome the outcome of the negotiations to secure an effective, safe and cost-effective vaccine to protect against Men B.
“All four UK Health Ministers had previously accepted the JCVI recommendation to introduce a Men B vaccination programme, subject to the vaccine being procured at a cost effective price.
“This is very good news and I’m sure all prospective parents will welcome the introduction of a Men B vaccine to the routine childhood vaccination schedule.”
Since 2010 there have been around 25 to 35 cases of Men B each year in Northern Ireland.
Men B is now responsible for the vast majority of cases of invasive meningococcal disease in this country.
In the past decade, on average over 1,000 confirmed cases of Men B disease have occurred annually in the UK, although the annual incidence has declined in recent years.
Up to the end of February 2015, there have been eight meningitis cases notified – all lab confirmed – in Northern Ireland – six serogroup B, one serogroup C and one not yet stated.
Minister Wells added: “The introduction of a new vaccination programme needs to be carefully planned in order to ensure a sufficient and sustainable supply of the vaccine but my Department will endeavour to ensure that a vaccination programme is in place as quickly as possible to ensure we protect our children from this terrible illness.”
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