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Teenagers from Kent and Brighton show that the MenACWY teenage vaccine programme provides herd immunity across all age groups

A study involving teenagers from Kent and Brighton has found giving a meningitis vaccine to 14 to 19-year-olds helps protect people of all ages.

More than 24,000 teenagers took part in the ‘Be on the TEAM’ study. This includes more than 3,239 students from 28 schools in Maidstone and the surrounding area and more than 1,400 from four schools in the Brighton area, from March 2018 to November 2019.

The study involved researchers taking throat swabs to look for MenACWY and MenB, and immunising teenagers with the MenB vaccine. Part of this study was stopped early due to COVID-19 and school closures, however swab results from the teenagers were still very useful to look at how many carried the Meningococcus bacteria compared to how many carried the bacteria in a previous study four years earlier, before introduction of the MenACWY vaccine.

The vaccine was given to teenagers as this is where transmission of the meningococcal bacteria is known to be highest and could generate herd protection, or herd immunity.

Dr Rohit Gowda, a consultant Paediatrician was the Principal Investigator for Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust. He said: “I am immensely proud that the hard work by our research team enabled us to involve large numbers of local teenagers in the study, which helped strengthen confidence in the study results.

“The results of the study show that immunising children and young adults of this age group against the four strains of Meningitis (ACWY) meant a significant reduction in the number of cases of meningitis, not only in the immunised teenagers but also in other members of their family and community.

“This highlights the need for all children and young people of this age who are eligible to have the vaccine to ensure they have it and are up to date with their immunisations.”

Dr Katy Fidler, Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Diseases, Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, and Reader at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, was the local Brighton Principal Investigator on the study. She said: “It was a huge privilege for my colleagues at the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital and I to work with partners including local secondary schools and Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust to deliver this important study.

“I’m delighted to see that this study has demonstrated such positive results, showing that the MenACWY vaccine is key to reducing the number of teenagers carrying the meningococcus bacteria in their throat. This in turn has contributed to the reduction in the overall incidence of people carrying the meningococcus bacteria in all age groups, reducing the risk of people suffering from meningitis and sepsis due to these bacteria.

“It also gave myself, research nurse Rebecca Ramsay and a parent whose child had died from meningitis, the opportunity to go into the schools and talk to over 2,000 teenagers about the signs and symptoms of meningitis and sepsis, which provided an excellent opportunity to educate teenagers about health.

“I would like to thank all the schools and young people in Brighton who took part in the study. This study shows how important it is for schools and the community to take part in research.”

Professor Nick Lemoine, Medical Director of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network said: “This NIHR-supported study has provided important data on the effectiveness of MenACWY vaccines in inducing population immunity against meningitis - which has been shown to protect all ages against this potentially life-threatening disease. We want to thank the incredible 24,000 teenage participants who took part for their contributions.”

The findings align with data from the UK showing the incidence of MenW disease has fallen in all age groups since the teenage MenACWY vaccine campaign. Researchers found the MenACWY vaccine substantially reduced carriage of the W and Y meningococcal groups, which cause the disease, and sustained low levels of the C group.

Taken together these data provide strong evidence for the need to target age groups with high rates of meningococcal transmission to make most effective use of these vaccines, and not necessarily immunising other age groups at high risk.

The study was run by the University of Oxford and it was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (PR-ST-0915-10015 and PR-R18-0117-21001).