Meningitis vaccines- when I bring the topic up in my office, that there is a new vaccine, my patients are confused. And rightly so. While the group of diseases known as meningitis all have the same infection of the layer of the brain called the meninges, there are different bacteria and viruses that can cause this disease. At 12 months we give kids meningitis C and in high school we give them a quadrivalent meningitis vaccine- meaning there are 4 different types of strains that can cause meningits.

So what is this new meningitis vaccine about?

This newer vaccine, newly licensed in Canada is indicated to help protect individuals from two months through 17 years of age against meningococcal B disease, including infants, children one to four years and adolescents who are at the greatest risk of infection.

MenB is the most common type of meningitis in Canada. It is responsible for 80 per cent of meningococcal cases in infants under one year of age, 67 per cent in one to four year olds and 62 per cent of the cases in adolescents aged 15 to 19.

MenB invasive meningococcal infections cause substantial morbidity and mortality and are the leading cause of invasive meningococcal disease in Canada. Although rare, this disease is feared as it affects healthy people rapidly and without warning. Meningococcal disease can cause significant mortality in 24 - 48 hours and early symptoms can often resemble the flu, making this disease initially misdiagnosed in its early stages.

As our local leading experts have pointed out, until now, we have had no vaccine against MenB that could be used routinely to protect infants, children, teens against this devastating disease. Dr. Ron Gold, Senior Medical Advisor of the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada and retired Chief of Infectious Disease at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto points out that the MenB vaccine is designed to reduce the risk of disease in those most at risk and provide parents with peace of mind.

The new MenB vaccine has the potential to fill the last remaining gap in vaccines to prevent all of the major causes of bacterial meningitis outside of the newborn period. About 10 per cent to 14 per cent of people who contract the disease will die despite appropriate  treatment. Up to 20 per cent of survivors may suffer from devastating, life-long disabilities such as neurological disabilities, hearing loss or limb loss. Prevention through vaccination is considered the best control strategy against an aggressive disease that leaves little time for intervention.

Meningococcal disease is caused by  Neisseria meningitidis . Five main groups of meningococcal bacteria (A, B, C, W and Y) cause virtually all cases around the world. Prior to Bexsero*, vaccines were available to help protect only against A, C, W and Y strains.

The men B vaccine  is the first broad coverage meningococcal MenB vaccine to demonstrate an immune response in infants, for use in individuals from two months through 17 years of age, the population at greatest risk for developing this devastating disease.  When given with other childhood vaccinations there is little impact on immunogenicity of Bexsero* or the other vaccines.