On World Meningitis Day: Prevention through immunisation is key to saving lives and cutting costs

Child being vaccinated by a nurse

“Meningitis is a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that has the power to cause death or disability in a matter of hours.’ These words expressed by Professor Robert Booy, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group of Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO), should be enough to strike fear into most people’s hearts.

The statistics behind these words are equally chilling: each year, over 1.2 million people are affected by meningitis globally – indeed the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is fatal in 50% of cases if untreated, and may result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability for survivors. Bacterial meningitis, the disease’s most severe and common form, claims some 120,000 lives annually and, even with prompt diagnosis and treatment, it still kills approximately 1 in 10 patients die and up to 1 in 5 sustain permanent damage and disability.

So what about the cost to health systems? CoMO suggests that a severe case of meningococcal infection (the most common cause of bacterial meningitis) may generate hospitalisation costs of between €220,000 – €275,000). Moreover, follow-on cover for a meningitis or septicaemia survivor will cost a health system somewhere in the region of €1,870,000 and €2,360,000.

So on World Meningitis Day, we have to press the point that many of these lives are needlessly lost and extreme costs to health systems are pointlessly incurred: vaccination is the key.

Vaccines currently available target a wide range of viral and bacterial meningitis types. The meningitis B vaccine offers protection against meningococcal group B bacteria; the 5-in-1 vaccine, also known as the DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine, guards against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); the pneumococcal vaccine shields against serious infections caused by pneumococcal bacteria, including meningitis; the meningitis C vaccine offers protection against meningococcal group C bacteria infection; the MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella; and the meningitis ACWY vaccines offers protection against four types of bacteria that can cause meningitis – meningococcal groups A, C, W and Y.

While there are many vaccines available, though, it is only by implementing an effective vaccination strategy that we will be able to prevent successfully the most severe forms of meningitis. This means providing wide and comprehensive access to the necessary vaccines across all age and social groups. The effective implementation of immunisation programmes across the entire course of a person’s life is therefore a vital component in keeping populations healthy and fully protected.

For more information on meningitis check the WHO fact sheet.

For more information on World Meningitis Day visit the CoMO (Confederation of Meningitis Organisations) website.

Magdalena R. de Azero

Magdalena R. de Azero, Executive Director Vaccines Europe, has more than 15 years professional experience working...
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