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Home News centre National Press Releases 2009 Press Releases ›  10 years of meningitis C vaccine: outstanding health protection measure of the past decade

10 years of meningitis C vaccine: outstanding health protection measure of the past decade

23 November 2009

The introduction of the Group C meningococcal vaccine to the childhood immunisation programme has proved to be one of the most effective health protection measures of recent years, saving hundreds of lives said Health Protection Agency (HPA) immunisation expert Dr Mary Ramsay.


Prior to the vaccine's introduction in November 1999 around 1000 cases of Group C meningitis and septicaemia were recorded in England and Wales every year. These accounted for just under 40% of all meningococcal cases and resulted in over 100 deaths per year.

HPA figures show there were only 13 cases of Meningitis C in 2008/09 compared to 955 in 1998/99 - a decline of 99% largely due to the use of meningococcal C vaccine.

Dr Ramsay said, "The vaccine's 10th anniversary is a significant milestone which highlights the vital role the vaccine has had in saving lives - Group C meningococcal infection has virtually disappeared from the UK with only a handful of cases reported since the beginning of the year. 

"Our surveillance has shown parents have great faith in this vaccine and the high uptake of the vaccine has been a major factor in reducing the number of cases of Meningitis C. Since January we have received only six reports of invasive Group C Meningitis."

Justin McCracken, Chief Executive of the Health Protection Agency said, "The UK was the first country in the world to introduce Group C meningococcal vaccine to a childhood immunisation programme. Thanks to the Department of Health's commitment to introducing the vaccine and the hard work of NHS staff in delivering it this vaccine has provided essential protection against this serious disease.

"The success of the vaccine has again proved the value of immunising children against serious illnesses. This infection can be devastating as it can cause neurological problems such as hearing loss and language disorders, blood poisoning, lung infection or permanent damage to the joints. "

Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health Professor David Salisbury said,
"In 1999, 79 children lost their lives to a disease that is now, thanks to the Department's successful immunisation programme, all but eradicated in the UK.

I'm delighted with the remarkable progress in tackling the childhood disease that parents most fear - ten years on, the evidence speaks for itself.

"Thanks to the dedication of NHS doctors and nurses - and most of all, parents - many childhood diseases that killed or left lasting damage are largely a thing of the past."

Dr Ramsay warns that we shouldn't be complacent and still need to be alert to the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia: "It's important to remember that the Meningitis C vaccine does not protect against meningitis caused by other bacteria or by viruses. For example serogroup B meningococcal infection - for which there is not yet an effective vaccine - now accounts for 90% of all meningococcal cases.

Meningitis can kill in less than 4 hours and with symptoms which can be similar to flu everyone should be on the look out for signs and symptoms of meningitis (a rash that doesn't fade when pressed, pale and mottled skin, a dislike of light, joint and muscle pain) and seek urgent medical advice."

-ends-

Notes to Editors

  1. Meningococcal infection is a serious illness that can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning). The onset of infection can be sudden, so it is vitally important for everyone to be aware of the symptoms to look out for and to be prepared to take prompt action when the disease is suspected.
    Early symptoms, which may not always be present, can include:
    • A rash that doesn't fade when pressed with a glass (due to bleeding under the skin).
    • Sudden onset of high fever
    • A severe and worsening headache
    • Stiff neck
    • Vomiting
    • Joint and muscle pain
    • Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
    • Very cold hands and feet
    • Drowsiness that can deteriorate into a coma.
  2. Further information is available on the following meningitis research and charity websites:
    The Meningitis Research Foundation - http://www.meningitis.org 
    The Meningitis Trust - www.meningitis-trust.org
    Meningitis UK - http://www.meningitisuk.org/
  3. Following the introduction of the Group C meningococcal vaccine in November 1999 a "catch-up" programme was launched to vaccinate everyone aged up to 18 years. The programme was extended in January 2002 to include everyone up to and including 24 years of age.
  4. The Vaccine Evaluation Unit is currently working with the HPA's Immunisation, Hepatitis and Blood Safety Department at the Centre for Infections in Colindale, scientists from the Agency's research facility at Porton Down, the pharmaceutical industry and other partners on the development and evaluation of vaccines that will protect against Group B meningococcal disease, currently the major cause of meningitis and septicaemia in the United Kingdom.
  5. The Manchester-based team is also working with a range of international partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the development of an improved Group A meningococcal vaccine for use in a group of countries collectively known as the "meningitis belt" in Sub-Saharan Africa. These countries are periodically plagued by epidemics of meningococcal infection.
  6. The Meningitis C vaccine is given to babies when they are 3 and 4 months old with a dose of the combined Hib/MenC vaccine being given at 12 months. According to latest HPA UK immunisation data (April - June 2009) 92.1% of UK children aged 12 months have completed their primary Meningitis C immunisation. By 24 months 89.1% of children have received their Meningitis C booster.
  7. Laboratory confirmed cases of serogroup C disease by age and epidemiological year, England and Wales
epiyear <1yr</b /> 1-4yrs 5-9yrs 10-14yrs 15-19yrs 20-24yrs >=25yrs NK Total
1998/1999 105 211 89 89 207 44 194 16 955
1999/2000 66 230 110 79 119 52 235 1 892
2000/2001 20 45 27 11 38 66 205   412
2001/2002 6 23 5 6 17 31 122 1 211
2002/2003 6 13 5   9 17 71   121
2003/2004 2 11 1 1 1 7 41   64
2004/2005 1 4 1 1 3 3 29   42
2005/2006 1 3 1 1 2 3 19   30
2006/2007 2 2 2   1 3 19   29
2007/2008 1 2 1   4 2 19   29
2008/2009*   1 1 2     9   13

Last reviewed: 25 May 2010