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."
Notes to Editors
Last reviewed: 25 May 2010