New Meningitis Vaccine Works in Infants: Study

If licensed, it would protect babies from a strain of bacterium that can cause serious disease

TUESDAY, Feb. 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Routinely giving infants a new vaccine that guards against meningitis appears to be effective, a new study indicates.

The multi-center clinical trial of almost 1,900 infants found that administration of routine infant immunizations with a vaccine for serogroup B Neisseria meningitidis -- a bacterium that can cause serious disease such as sepsis and meningitis -- was effective against meningococcal strains and caused minimal interference with infants' response to routine vaccinations.

The study of the multi-component serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (4CMenB) was funded by Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics and appears in the Feb. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"In conclusion, 4CMenB was "immunogenic [able to produce an immune response], generally well tolerated, and showed minimal interference with routine vaccines in the first year of life," wrote Dr. Nicoletta Gossger, of the University of Oxford in England, and colleagues.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes covering the spinal cord and the brain. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningitis can be caused by a virus or a bacteria. The bacterial form is often more severe and can result in brain damage, hearing loss and death.

Before the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Today, the Hib vaccine is part of routine pediatric immunizations.

In the U.S., meningococcal disease is usually caused by groups A, B, C, Y, and W-135 of the meningococcus bacteria. Currently, licensed vaccines provide some protection against all groups except B. There is no licensed vaccine for group B in the U.S, according to the U.S. National Network for Immunization Information.

If the new vaccine were to be licensed, "this vaccine could potentially provide improved protection for infants against meningococcal disease beyond the protection provided by currently licensed vaccines," the researchers noted.

In an accompanying editorial, experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 4CMenB has the potential to reduce serogroup B meningococcal disease substantially. "But it cannot be compared with the success of conjugate vaccine programs," they wrote.

Despite its potential, 4CMenB vaccine may have some limitations, the editorialists wrote. It may not be as effective as a vaccine against serogroup C was in the United Kingdom, and it remains to be seen if booster doses will be required to sustain protection, while adding serogroup B vaccination will also add additional costs to the infant vaccine schedule.

"However, the anticipated licensure of this vaccine in Europe and other countries means that for the first time vaccines to prevent all five of the serogroups that cause most meningococcal disease worldwide will be available," the CDC doctors wrote.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about meningococcal vaccination.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, Feb. 7, 2012
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