How do I get my child vaccinated against meningitis B?

As a petition to make the Meningitis B vaccine available to all children reaches hundreds of thousands of signatures, here's what you need to know about the disease, the jab and its availability.

  • What is meningitis B?

Meningococcal infections can be extremely serious and cause meningitis and blood-poisoning (septicaemia). This can lead to severe brain damage, amputations and even death.

Make no mistake: meningitis B can be deadly.

In the past 20 years, between 500 and 1,700 people every year, mainly babies and young children, have suffered from Men B disease, with around 1 in 10 dying from the infection.

Meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal group B bacteria can affect people of any age, but is most common in babies and young children.

  • Can my child get the vaccine?

Since 1 September 2015, the NHS has offered a men B vaccine to babies as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme.

The vaccine is available across the UK, and will be offered to babies born on or after 1 July 2015.

The men B vaccine is recommended for babies aged 2 months followed by a second dose at 4 months then a booster at 12 months.

The family of two-year-old Faye Burdett, who died from meningitis, are calling for the vaccine to be made available for all children.
  • How do I get my child vaccinated?

Your doctor's surgery or clinic will automatically send you an appointment for you to bring your baby for their men B vaccination alongside their other routine vaccinations.

  • What happens if my child was born before 1 July 2015?

There is a limited catch up programme for babies born between 1 May and 30 June 2015.

If your child was born before 1 May, s/he will not be offered the vaccination.

However, babies and infants who are very susceptible to infection may be offered the jab. Check with your GP.

There is a petition to make the vaccine available to all children up to age 11.

The vaccine is also available through private clinics, but stocks held outside the NHS are low - leading to reports some have been unable to start new courses.

From a private clinic, the vaccine can cost between £90-135 a shot.

  • Does the vaccine offer total protection against meningitis?

There are many different men B strains, but some tests predict that the Men B vaccine protects against 90% of the strains circulating in the United Kingdom.

However, the full extent of its protection will not be known until it is in regular use.

  • Is the vaccine safe?

The men B vaccine (Bexsero) was licensed by the European Medial Association in January 2013 and all vaccines are extensively tested for safety and effectiveness before being licensed.

The vaccine cannot cause meningitis.

  • Are there any side-effects?

Some children may experience tenderness and swelling at the injection site, may run a fever and irritability.

Taking paracetamol or similar painkillers at the time of vaccination or shortly afterwards may help reduce the risk of such reactions - your doctor can advise you about this.

There may be other side-effects. Talk to your GP or district nurse if you are worried.

  • What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms of meningitis usually begin suddenly and get worse rapidly. They include:

  • High fever with cold hands and feet

  • Vomiting and refusal to feed

  • Being agitated and not wanting to be picked up

  • Becoming drowsy, floppy and unresponsive

  • Grunting or breathing rapidly

  • An unusual high-pitched or moaning cry

  • A tense, bulging soft spot on their head

  • A stiff neck and dislike of bright lights

  • Convulsions or seizures

  • A red rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it is another sign, although not everybody develops this

  • In older children, adults and teenagers, the symptoms can also include confusion and irritability and severe muscle pain

  • Most people with viral meningitis have flu-like symptoms, and in more severe cases may experience neck stiffness, muscle or joint pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and sensitivity to light

Sources: Meningitis Now and NHS Choices