'Breakthrough' meningitis B vaccine set to receive UK licence
A vaccine to protect children against one of the most common and deadly forms of meningitis is set to be licensed for use in the UK.
An average of 1,870 people contract meningitis B each year and one in 10 of them die.
The 4CMenB vaccine, developed by Novartis, has been described as the "biggest leap forward in the field" in 30 years by the charity Meningitis UK.
The jab was recommended for approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
About a quarter of all survivors of meningitis B are left with life altering after-effects, such as brain damage or limb loss.
Children under the age of five are the most at risk from the bacterial infection, which leads to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
Recommendations from the EMA are normally endorsed by the European Commission within two or three months.
The vaccine, known as Bexsero, is expected to receive its UK licence early next year. It has been recommended for use in children aged two months and older.
Meningitis UK has described the breakthrough as a "landmark moment in the fight against meningitis" and wants the jab to be introduced into the government's routine immunisation schedule as a priority.
The charity's founder Steve Dayman, whose baby son died of meningitis and septicaemia in 1982, said: "It is vital that the vaccine is introduced in the UK immunisation schedule as soon as possible.
"It will save countless lives and prevent many people enduring the suffering caused by this devastating disease.
"We will be campaigning hard to make the government introduce it."
It has taken Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis 20 years to develop the vaccine, which has been complicated by the many different strains of the infection.
Andrin Oswald, head of vaccines at Novartis, said: "We are proud of the major advance that our meningococcal group B vaccine represents within the field of vaccine development against what up until now has been a very challenging disease target."
Studies have shown the jab is likely to be effective against 73% of the different variations of meningitis B.
A vaccine against the less common meningitis C has been administered since 1999 and is now widely given to babies in the first year of their life.
It has led to a large fall in the number of cases in people under the age of 20.
The decision on whether to introduce the vaccine to the immunisation schedule will be made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, who advise the Government on vaccination.