International research that drew on New Zealand’s ground-breaking meningococcal B vaccine campaign is being hailed as a possible breakthrough in the fight against the deadly disease.
The B-group of meningococcal strains has been notoriously difficult to prevent, with no universal vaccine available. Trials of a Chilean-developed vaccine that offers protection have shown early success, with nearly all 1,300 teenage participants still immune six months after receiving two or three doses.
The research drew on a successful vaccine developed to combat a meningococcal B epidemic in New Zealand in the 1990s and early 2000s, which killed 185 people and infected more than 4,000. That vaccine was designed to only protect against the particular strain circulating in New Zealand so could not be used as a universal vaccine.
There are six types of meningococcal disease, which all have multiple strains. The two types most common in New Zealand are meningococcal B and meningococcal C, which has a universal vaccine.
New Zealand teenagers aged 11 to 17 were given the Chilean vaccine and they all tested positive after six months for three key antibodies that protect against multiple B strains – including the New Zealand vaccine antibody.
Professor David Stephens, from Atlanta’s Emory University, said the new vaccine was a potential breakthrough. “[Meningococcal B] is now the leading cause of meningococcal disease, especially in infants and young children in many countries. No vaccines are in routine use for [its] prevention. The 4CMenB vaccine could be a key to the future prevention of serogroup B meningococcal disease.”
“The vaccine also had a good safety profile but there was still further research to be done, including determining whether the vaccine offered long-term protection,” Professor Stephens added. “These questions might not be fully answered before licensure and implementation of the 4CMenB vaccine, but are crucial to widespread use.”