This Vaccine May Shield Infants from Rare Disease

Meningococcal disease vaccination early could lower risk of infection in infants

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) New parents want to keep their kids happy and healthy — and one vaccine might help them do just that.

A recent study found that most cases of meningococcal infection in the US occur in babies younger than 12 months. A certain strain of bacteria, called serogroup B, caused most cases of this disease.

Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus). It can cause problems like meningitis (which affects the brain and spinal cord) and bloodstream infections. Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics, but immediate medical attention is crucial.

Routine vaccination of infants and of those who come in contact with them may lower the risk of infectious diseases like meningitis, said the authors of this study.

"There are currently three meningococcal vaccines licensed in the United States," said Robert Kotas, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Baylor Medical Center at Garland.

"These vaccines are not routinely given to all infants. Infant vaccination is only indicated in high-risk babies such as those with HIV or complement deficiency. Unfortunately, none of these vaccines cover Group B disease, which causes about half of the meningococcal infections in infants," said Dr. Kotas, who was not involved in this study.

"Recently, a vaccine  for infants was approved in Europe called MenB vaccine. It covers the elusive but prominent Group B infections. A Group B vaccine that provides long-term protection early in life has the potential to reduce the burden of meningococcal disease significantly. The FDA is currently studying this new vaccine," he said.  

In their research article, lead author Amanda C. Cohn, MD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, and colleagues wrote, "Vaccines that provide long-term protection early in life have the potential to reduce the burden of meningococcal disease, especially if they provide protection against serogroup B meningococcal disease."

Dr. Kotas told dailyRx News what parents can do to reduce their children's risk of this disease. "There are several risk factors for meningococcal disease that parents can help mitigate," he said. "Avoiding crowded living conditions can lower your infant’s risk of getting this disease. Active and passive smoking raises the risk of meningococcal disease and should be strictly avoided."

Meningococcal infection in the US has declined in all age groups since the late 90s. In 2012, cases were at a historic low (0.15 per 100,000 people), Dr. Cohn and colleagues found.

Dr. Cohn and colleagues looked at infection data from 10 states. An estimated 113 cases of the disease were confirmed annually in infants from 2006 to 2011.

Dr. Cohn and team noted that 60 percent of the infections in infants were caused by the serogroup B strain.

Vaccines for infants and toddlers in the US currently protect against two of the three major strains that cause meningococcal infections — but not against serogroup B infections. Early vaccination against all three strains may prevent up to 63 percent of US infant cases, Dr. Cohn and colleagues said.

Babies younger than 6 months are too young to receive the number of doses needed to prevent the disease. However, vaccinating mothers and other potential carriers could lower the risk of infecting infants.

This study was published Jan. 12 in Pediatrics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infections Program funded this research.

Study author Dr. Lee H. Harrison received grants from Sanofi Pasteur and payment for lectures from Novartis. He consulted for Sanofi Pasteur, Merck, GSK, Novartis and Pfizer. Study author Dr. William Schaffner consulted for Sanofi Pasteur, Pfizer and Dynavax.

Review Date: 
January 10, 2015
Last Updated:
January 13, 2015