Students in colleges across Hampshire are participating in a landmark national study that could lead to the introduction of a routine meningitis vaccine for all teenagers in the UK.
More than 24,000 sixth-form students aged 16 to 19 will be immunised against meningitis B, the most common cause of meningococcal disease in teenagers, with one of two licensed vaccines.
Although both are approved for use and available privately, they are not currently offered to teenagers as part of the UK immunisation schedule – despite them being at increased risk.
Meningitis is a rare but life-threatening infection which develops around the surface of the brain and is caused by bacteria known as meningococcus.
Around 10% of teenagers carry the bacteria in the back of their nose and throat without causing any symptoms but, if it invades the bloodstream, it can cause permanent damage to the brain and nerves and potentially fatal blood poisoning known as septicaemia.
“We want to see if immunising teenagers with vaccines against meningitis B can reduce the number carrying these bacteria in their throat,” said Professor Saul Faust, director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility.
“This would be important because it could mean that teenage meningitis B immunisation would not only help to protect teenagers against these potentially deadly diseases but also that babies, children and older adults are less likely to be exposed to the bacteria.”
“In short, immunising teenagers with a meningitis B vaccine might mean lower rates of meningitis across all ages.”
All participants in the trial, known as ‘Be on the Team’, will receive two doses of either 4CMenB (Bexsero) or MenB-fHBP (Trumenba) with a one to six month interval between each dose.
The research team will then collect throat samples and compare rates of ‘carriage’ of the bacteria before and after vaccination, with all visits carried out at students’ colleges.
“The vaccine is already routinely given to babies at two, four and 12 months of age in the UK and used widely in the USA among students going to college and university,” said Prof Faust, who is a consultant in paediatric immunology and infectious diseases at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
“We now need to know more about the effect of immunisation in this age group to help inform future decisions made on its inclusion in the routine immunisation schedule.”
Southampton researchers have already completed initial visits to four colleges, with Peter Symonds College in Winchester up next on Wednesday (31 October).
The study, which is being carried out at 15 sites across the UK, is being coordinated by the Oxford Vaccine Group and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Public Health England.
Anyone interested in taking part in the study can contact the research team on 023 8120 4989, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via beontheteam.web.ox.ac.uk for more information.
Posted on Friday 26 October 2018