England, Scotland and Wales are the first countries in the world to offer a national publicly-funded meningitis vaccine to babies.
The meningitis B jab is being offered on the NHS from today to all infants aged two months, followed by a second dose at four months and a booster at 12 months, reported STV News.
For the rest of this month a temporary catch-up programme will be available for babies who are due other three and four-month vaccinations during September.
Meningitis B can affect people of all ages but it is most common in babies and the under-fives. It’s hoped that the new vaccine, called Bexsero, will protect against approximately 90 percent of the meningococcal group-B bacteria strains circulating in the U.K.
Around 1,200 people, mostly babies and children, get meningitis B each year. Around one in 10 of them die from the infection and others are left with serious, permanent disabilities.
“Whilst reaching this milestone is great news, I urge all parents to remain vigilant of (sic) the signs and symptoms of meningitis,” said Sue Davie, chief executive of Meningitis Now, the U.K.’s largest meningitis charity. “There are still types for which there is no vaccine available.”
Symptoms of meningitis that all parents should be aware of include a high temperature with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, vomiting and refusing to feed, agitation and being floppy or unresponsive. Other signs are grunting or breathing rapidly, emitting an unusually high-pitched or moaning cry, a stiff neck and an aversion to bright light. Meningitis is commonly associated with a rash but this only appears in some cases. If it does, the rash will not fade when a glass is rolled over it.
More: Baby injured by metal inside Pampers nappy
As with all vaccinations it’s up to the parent or guardian whether an infant has the meningitis B jab. Isla, 39, mother of two-month-old Adam, is undecided. “I find it hard to put my faith in science when my gut tells me no,” she said. “I hate the thought of needles being stuck into my tiny baby’s arm and all the potential side effects.”
However for 28-year-old Sarah the decision is an easy one: she’ll definitely be taking her two-month-old daughter Lucy for the vaccine. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t give Lucy the jab and she contracted the illness,” she said. “Children are most at risk from meningitis when they are too young to tell you they’re not well and exactly what hurts.”
“I don’t give my children medication lightly,” said 34-year-old Maggie, mum of six-week-old Ava. “I don’t give them the flu vaccinations because I think it is good for their bodies to fight germs themselves. But meningitis is completely different. It’s so fast-acting and terrifying and can lead to death or brain damage. I think we’re very lucky to be getting this on the NHS. With meningitis you just can’t afford to take any risks.”