Health Minister Simon Hamilton has tonight announced the introduction of two new meningitis immunisation programmes aimed at infants, teenagers and university freshers, in line with the rest of the UK.
Meningococcal B and Meningococcal ACWY vaccination programmes have been recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the UK expert group that advises Ministers.
From September the world’s first licensed Meningococcal B vaccine will be offered to infants in three doses, at 2 months, 4 months and 12 months.
Announcing the programme, the Minister said: “Parents are acutely aware that Meningitis B is a very serious and in some cases fatal disease which strikes fast and without warning.
“I am delighted to announce the introduction the Men B programme in Northern Ireland which will provide a high level of protection against the disease. I am confident that families will welcome this life-saving programme and that the uptake in Northern Ireland will be high.”
The Minister also announced the introduction of a new meningitis immunisation programme for teenagers aged 14 to 18 and for young people starting university.
Meningococcal W is a particularly virulent strain of the disease, which is rare in the UK but has seen an increase in cases in recent years. In response to the rise in cases, the JCVI has recommended an immunisation programme with a vaccine that provides protection against four strains of meningococcal disease: A, C, W and Y.
The Men ACWY vaccine will also be offered to young people aged 18 to 25 who are starting university. The current Men C programme for freshers will now offer the Men ACWY vaccine, providing protection against these four strains.
Concluding the Minister said: “Vaccination is true primary prevention. It is important not only to provide protection for those who are most at risk but also to interrupt the carriage of the disease in the community. I would urge all those who are eligible for the Men ACWY programme to get themselves immunised. By doing so they will be protecting others as well as themselves.”
Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, has welcomed the announcement by the Health Minister that the Meningitis B and W vaccines will be made available in Northern Ireland from September.
Commenting the Upper Bann MLA, who has campaigned for years on behalf of her constituents on this issue, said: “I pay massive tribute to all those parents and campaigners who have fought so hard and for so long to see this day finally come.
“While it has taken us many years to achieve this announcement we can be sure in the knowledge that lives will be saved by these vaccination programmes.
“As a political representative and a friend I have been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder over recent years with Northern Ireland’s ‘meningitis ambassador’ Lana Wells and her family for who I know this is a momentous day.
“The discovery of the Meningitis B vaccine Bexsero was a major life-saving breakthrough for those campaigning to save lives, rebuild futures and fund research into Meningitis.
“It is deeply unfortunate that delays in administration and then later with confirming costs with drugs companies may well have cost lives.
“We owe it to new-born babies that they benefit from the break-throughs like this in modern science. Meningitis is a disease that even its mention strikes fear at the heart of families.
“The wheels of Government often grind far too slowly and in this case we can be thankful that a positive result has been achieved. I hope that lessons, including the recognition that delays can cost lives, have been learnt throughout this process by the Health Minister and his Department.
“Equally we have seen a worrying and rapid increase in Meningitis W cases which were caused by a highly aggressive strain of the disease. Without the vaccine this was likely to increase in future years.
“The new vaccination programme for teenagers will now have a substantial impact on the disease and protect the public’s future health.
“To delay the rollout of the vaccine was simply not an option and I am glad that we now have confirmation that Northern Ireland will not be left behind when compared with other regions of the United Kingdom.”
For more on meningitis, symptoms, vaccines and fundraising visit https://www.meningitisnow.org
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