MenB in Ireland
Heading towards MenB vaccination
Meningococcal Group B (MenB) is the killer bacteria which is the leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia in Ireland.
The vaccine, which could save generations of children from death and disability, was licensed at the beginning of the year, but until it is recommended for national implementation for all children, only families who can afford it to buy it privately will be able to protect their children.
The fairest and most effective way to combat this deadly illness is to introduce the vaccine into the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule so that it’s free for all our children. The UK recently recommended that the vaccine be introduced into their Childhood Immunisation Schedule and we hope that Ireland will follow suit sooner rather than later.
In a positive move, recently updated immunisation guidelines recommend that at risk groups should receive the MenB vaccine. Find out more.Read our factsheet on MenB vaccine and this latest development
However, we feel the Irish Government is in danger of failing millions of families for decades to come if it doesn’t implement the vaccine. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) continues to consider whether it should recommend the MenB vaccine be added to the Primary Immunisation schedule.
Introducing a new vaccine in Ireland
Bexsero, the vaccine that protects against Meningitis B has now been licensed, but there are still a number steps involved before it can be introduced into the Irish Childhood Immunisation Schedule.
- The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) advises the Department of Health and Children (DoHC) on all matters related to vaccination. This is a committee of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland and consists of experts in a range of disciplines including infectious diseases, paediatrics and public health. They will take into account the effectiveness of the new vaccine, value for money and best practice, and will then make recommendations to the DoHC . If they recommend the vaccine they will outline who should get it and how it might fit into the current schedule.
- The National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) supply NIAC with a health technology assessment which is a cost benefit analysis. This estimates the burden of disease in Ireland and evaluates the cost-effectiveness of introducing the new vaccine compared to “no vaccination”. This assessment considers factors such as the cost of the vaccine, direct medical costs of the disease, quality of life of the affected child and family, and wider societal implications such a loss of earnings of parents looking after a sick child.
- If NIAC recommends the introduction of the vaccine the DoHC together with the Health Service Executives National Immunisation Office will examine the findings and make their own decision. If they agree to introduce the vaccine the procurement and planning processes can then start.
NIAC is currently considering a health technology assessment that it received a few weeks ago. However it’s important to note that a positive recommendation from the Committee does not automatically mean that the vaccine will be introduced. That said Chairman of NIAC, retired paediatrician, Dr Kevin Connolly recently made the point that, “up to now, any recommendation made by the Committee had been accepted by the Chief Medical Officer”. He also said that “it is one of the more difficult decisions that the Committee been faced with”.Read more about the new vaccine
MenB - the human cost
It is thrilling to see all the hard work of our members paying dividends - but we also know from them just how devastating MenB is for individuals affected, their families and their friends.
It is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK and Ireland, with one in 10 cases dying while others can be left with serious disabilities including the loss of limbs, hearing loss and brain damage.
We take inspiration from our members. They are determined something positive should come out of their traumatic personal stories. They want us raise aware awareness and prevent others suffering. That’s why they ask us to share their experiences in print, in film and online.
Daraine lost her legs to meningococcal septicaemia
The Irish perspective
'There has been a rise in meningococcal disease in 2013. This is a very serious and potentially lethal infection that we still see in Ireland – the widespread rash, shock and features of meningitis are every parent’s nightmare. The introduction of a group B vaccine in addition to the C vaccine already in the immunisation schedule would be a major step forward and would dramatically reduce the prevalence of meningococcal disease in Ireland'
Professor Alf Nicolson, Consultant Paediatrician, Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street Dublin
In June, we met with TDs at Leinster House to raise awareness of meningitis and septicaemia and to ensure that tackling the diseases remains a top public health priority. In a Parliamentary Briefing, co-hosted by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD and Jerry Buttimer TD, a large group of interested TDs, Senators and their representatives came together to hear expert opinions and personal stories about the disease. Many of the TDs were invited by Charity members who shared their experiences of meningitis and septicaemia with their local political representatives.
Much of the discussion in Leinster House revolved around vaccination which is one of the most important public health interventions to protect the population from serious diseases, like meningitis. Since the first meningitis vaccine was introduced in 1992 the impact of many strains of meningitis including Hib, MenC and pneumococcal have been dramatically reduced. However MenB still remains a significant public health issue and is responsible for the majority of meningococcal disease in Ireland.
How our research has helped
Meningitis Research Foundation has played a crucial role in reaching this point. MenB is one of the major reasons the charity was formed and we have been in the forefront of campaigns to raise awareness and fund research.
Our funded research has demonstrated the burden of disease and need for a solution, identified antigens and developed typing systems and assays essential in enabling the evaluation of meningitis vaccines.
There was never going to be a quick solution to MenB. Vaccine development takes many years - initial research to final delivery can take up to 30 or 40 years costing hundreds of millions of pounds for the pharmaceutical companies alone. It involves many different bodies including charities like ourselves, alongside larger funding bodies, national reference laboratories and surveillance and governments.
This wonderful news is just the beginning of important research to enable implementation and evaluate impact of MenB vaccine.
Current MRF MenB research projects
MenB by numbers
- 170 average cases of MenB in Ireland per year
- 10% of survivors will have a major disability including amputations, brain damage and hearing loss
- 33% of survivors will have after effects including psychological disorders & reduced IQ
- 7500 people, including over 5000 babies & toddlers, took part in clinical trials for a vaccine
- 78% in Europe predicted coverage of strains of the new MenB vaccine
- 20 years ago the first meningitis vaccine introduced – Hib 1992
Could this be the end of meningitis?
This vaccine is a tremendous step forward and could have a major impact on MenB, but it is unlikely to prevent all cases. This is why Meningitis Research Foundation continues to fund the development of future MenB vaccines, as well as research that will tell us what impact this vaccine is having. We hope this will bring us closer to achieving a world free from meningitis and septicaemia.Read more about the new vaccine
The journey of a new vaccine
From research to implementation. It's taken time for the new MenB vaccine to reach this stage and there's still a way to go before it's part of the immunisation programme in Ireland Read more
Why has it been so difficult to develop a MenB vaccine?
Unlike other bacteria which cause meningitis and speticaemia, the sugar coat of MenB bacteria does not trigger an immune response, because it looks like developing human brain cells. This means that the immune system does not recognise it as a foreign invader, and this protects it from attack. So using the sugar coat just does not work for MenB vaccine development.
The search for a MenB vaccine has had to focus on other elements of the surface of MenB bacteria but it has been very difficult to find elements which are both ‘visible’ to the immune system and present in every MenB strain. Even elements that are usually present are extremely variable, so the immune response against a vaccine made from one kind of MenB may not be capable of killing all the different MenB strains. Read more about the new vaccine
For more information about MenB, our Freefone helpline is available 365 days a year in Ireland on 1800 41 33 44
Tel 01 819 6931
Fax 01 819 6903
Meningitis Research Foundation
63 Lower Gardiner Street