Next week, a vaccine against pneumococcal disease will be introduced for the first time. It is likely to save the lives of 50 babies and small children a year and prevnt illness in many others.
As a part of the national childhood immunisation programme. all babies will be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease at the ages of 2, 4 and 13 months,from Sept.4. Apart from that, in a catch-up programme, infants up to two years will be vaccinated and parents will be contacted by their general practitioners.
Meningitis and septicaemia are caused by pneumococcal disease. The death rate of this disease is 20%. Brain damage, deafness and epilepsy are the life-changing side-effects seen in 25% of the children who survive. Amputation of limb is done in some cases of septicemia. The milder side-effects include tiredness and temporary or permanent behavioural changes.
In England and Wales, 530 cases are recorded each year, of which 150-200 are infants less than 2 years of age, making babies particularly susceptible. The disease is not very common and difficult to recognize since the symptoms are similar to many other childhood infections.
This programme was appreciated by Denise Vaughan, the chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation. "We know that many young lives will be saved every year and many youngsters will be spared the devastating after-effects of pneumococcal meningitis," she said.
Philip Kirby, the chief executive of the Meningitis Trust, said: "Vaccination is the only way to prevent meningitis. Pneumococcal meningitis is a devastating disease. This vaccine will help save lives and will significantly reduce the burden of the disease".
"Symptoms for meningitis include a floppy body, staring expression, drowsiness, a stiff neck, a hard-to-wake child and the refusal of food. Affected infants may not want to be handled. In babies, a high-pitched cry and an arched back are symptoms. When there is septicaemia there may be a rash that does not disappear when pressed with a clear glass. But septicaemia can be present without the rash."
Apart from the two other meningitis vaccines, pneumococcal vaccine also becomes a part of the national programme. The only one not included is meningitis B.
There was a remarkable reduction in cases in America according to Dr David McIntosh, the European medical director for infectious diseases at the Wyeth pharmaceuticals company, which will supply the vaccine.
Pneumococcal vaccine joins two other meningitis vaccines in the national programme. Only meningitis B is not covered.Dr David McIntosh, the European medical director for infectious diseases at the Wyeth pharmaceuticals company, which will supply the vaccine, said that experience in America had shown a significant reduction in cases.