Receiving a 'positive opinion' from the Committee for Medical Products for Bexsero, a new vaccine to protect against meningococcal group B disease (MenB), is probably the most significant step forward in the fight against meningitis in a decade.
Vaccines are the only way to protect against bacterial meningitis, so anything that can help to reduce the impact of this dreadful disease is a cause for celebration. Meningococcal bacteria cause meningitis and septicaemia, and in recent years there has been an annual average of 1,870 cases of MenB in the UK.
Some 10% of its victims will die and a third of survivors will be left with long-term after-effects, including hearing and sight problems and, where septicaemia has occurred, skin and tissue damage, organ failure and limb loss. So, given the success of other meningitis vaccines in use already in the UK, it is right to take a moment to celebrate this breakthrough.
But only a moment; there is still a way to go. After a positive opinion is given, it will be 60-90 days until a license is granted. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will then make a decision on whether the vaccine should be introduced into the immunisation schedule.
We want to see this happen soon. Bexsero will only start to save lives when it is introduced. We do not want a repeat of what happened with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which was licensed for six years before it was introduced into the UK Childhood Immunisation Schedule! We will be watching closely to ensure these next steps are taken.
For now, it is more vital than ever that people remain vigilant. Meningitis has not gone away and complacency will cost lives. We urge everybody to make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, and seek prompt medical attention for themselves and their loved ones where they suspect it.
Even while we celebrate a new vaccine, let us not lose sight of those families whose lives have been torn apart in a matter of hours by meningitis. Our pledge to them remains the same: you are not forgotten and we will always be here for you.
Sue Davie, chief executive, Meningitis Trust