From: Reuters
Published February 27, 2008 07:43 PM

Panel hesitates on expanding meningitis shots

By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A panel of U.S. federal vaccine experts decided on Wednesday against recommending that all 2- to 10-year-olds get a meningitis vaccination but said the vaccine was safe if parents and doctors chose to use it.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had considered expanding its current stance, which recommends that all children 2 to 10 years old who are at increased risk should routinely be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, which has about a 15 percent death rate.

But the group, meeting in Atlanta, eventually decided not to do that, in part because of vaccine availability, according to Dr. Carol Baker, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, who attended the meeting.

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"The vote was to continue to immunize all children 2 to 10 years of age who are at increased risk of meningococcal disease," Baker said in a telephone interview.

"There is no question that this vaccine is safe in 2- to 10-year-olds. There is no question about safety," she added.

Only one company, Sanofi-Pasteur, makes meningococcal meningitis shots.

"They are not sure they could supply the vaccine for 2- to 10-year-olds," Baker said.

More meningitis vaccines are being designed and are in the pipeline, Baker said. One, called Menveo, is being developed by Novartis AG.

The committee, which advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said if younger children are vaccinated against meningitis they should get one called MPSV4, which is now is recommended for high-risk children.

A second Sanofi vaccine, called Menactra or meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine or MCV4, is routinely recommended for adolescents and children 11 and older. It protects against four strains of meningitis-causing bacteria.

The CDC estimates there are 1,400 to 2,800 cases of meningococcal disease every year in the United States. Risk factors for bacterial meningitis include having a weakened immune system.

The infection can cause seizures, brain damage, memory loss and death in otherwise healthy people in less than 48 hours. It has about a 15 percent fatality rate if treated with antibiotics.

Characterized by fever, headache, and stiff neck, the relatively rare disease involves the inflammation of membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is a more serious infection than viral meningitis.

"Our concern right now is that parents need the information to know there is a vaccine out there so that they can protect their children," said Lynn Bozof of the National Meningitis Association.

"So many parents lose their children as I did without knowing that there is a vaccine out there that can protect them," added Bozof, of Marietta, Georgia, whose 20-year-old son Evan died of meningococcal meningitis in 1998.

Two routine childhood vaccines can also protect against other kinds of meningitis, caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae and Hemophilus influenzae bacteria.

The committee earlier on Wednesday voted to recommend routine influenza vaccination for all children aged 6 months to 18 years.

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