We are excited to share results from the ‘Be on the TEAM’ study investigating meningococcal B vaccines and herd immunity that local schools and colleges took part in between 2018 - 2020.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause severe meningitis and sepsis (blood poisoning). There are four main groups – B, C, W and Y – that cause most disease in the UK. These bacteria are also commonly ‘carried’ in people’s throats, without ever causing any symptoms or disease. Teenagers and young adults are common carriers of this bacteria. Immunisation is a highly effective way of protecting individuals against this devastating disease. Herd immunity is a powerful way to protect the community against meningococcal meningitis and sepsis by using vaccines that reduce transmission of the meningococcal bacteria by stopping ‘carriage’ of these bacteria in people’s throats. This benefits both those that are immunised and those that are not immunised.
The results of the impact of MenB vaccines on throat carriage have been delayed by Covid-19 restrictions and school closures. The final study results will now be available in early 2024. However, we designed the study so that we could also look at the herd immunity impact of the routine school MenACWY vaccine programme. The MenACWY school vaccine programme started in 2015, usually given in Year 9 or 10. By 2018, 84% of teenagers had been vaccinated with MenACWY.
We compared meningococcal carriage from the ‘baseline’ throat swab samples from participants in the ‘TEAM’ study to a group of Year 12/S5 students who participated in the previous 2014/15 ‘UKMenCar4’ meningococcal carriage study that was done in schools just before the start of the MenACWY programme.
By comparing throat carriage before and after the vaccine introduction, we showed that MenW and MenY carriage decreased by 70%. MenC remained very rare (due to the success of MenC vaccination from 1999 onwards) showing that the combination MenACWY works as well as the previous vaccine solely against MenC. These results help explain the sharp reduction in meningitis and sepsis due to MenW and MenY in both vaccinated and unvaccinated age cohorts in the UK following MenACWY introduction. The results of this study have already informed the UK immunisation schedule.
Matthew Snape, in his former role as Professor in Paediatrics and Vaccinology at the Oxford Vaccine Group, University of Oxford, and the lead study author, said:
‘This study reports the results of throat swabs taken from over 24,000 teenagers in more than 170 secondary schools across the country, showing yet again the fantastic enthusiasm of the UK public for taking part in research.
‘The results show us that by immunising teenagers with MenACWY vaccines we not only protect them directly, but also reduce the risk of all others in the community suffering from meningitis and sepsis due to these bacteria’.
‘Immunising teenagers rather than infants means we get more benefit out of each dose given. These two studies therefore provide invaluable data to help us use these vaccines effectively, both in the UK and internationally.’
You can read the published results of the study here: https://beontheteam.web.ox.ac.uk/publications