Meningitis Vaccine Working in U.K.
May 23, 2002 -- Routine meningitis vaccination seems to be working in the first nation to try it: the United Kingdom.
Faced with increasing rates of bacterial meningitis, the U.K. in 1999 began offering meningitis vaccine to everybody under the age of 18. The idea was that if enough people took the vaccine, even unvaccinated people would be unlikely to catch the disease.
Did it work? So far, so good. A research team led by Martin C.J. Maiden of Oxford University finds that vaccination reduced the number of people carrying bacterial meningitis germs by two thirds. Their report appears in the May 25 issue of the journal The Lancet.
The researchers found that about 70% of the 14 million people targeted were successfully vaccinated. That was enough, Maiden and colleagues think, to protect even people who did not take the vaccine.
Follow-up studies will show whether continued vaccination will improve protection even more. They will also test whether dangerous, disease-resistant forms of meningitis germs will start to appear. There is no sign of this yet.
In the U.S., the vaccine -- officially called group C meningococcal vaccine -- is used only during outbreaks. College freshmen who live in dorms are at particularly high risk, but the infection is most dangerous in infants. Unfortunately, the vaccine doesn't work as well in children under the age of 2 years as it does in adults. Also, the vaccine does not offer lifelong protection.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The vaccine used in the U.K. protects only against the most common types of bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis can be treated with modern antibiotics, but advanced cases can lead to brain damage or even death.