There is never enough information about type B meningitis and how it can be prevented. While remaining a rare disease, it is to be feared for the consequences it entails on the body, leaving disabling or even lethal sequelae. Furthermore, effectively treating the patient affected by the infection is very complex in view of the rapidity with which the bacterium attacks the body.
Vaccination is currently the most effective tool for protecting the most vulnerable subjects, such as children under the age of 5 and adolescents: therefore, the National Vaccination Prevention Plan in force includes a program that guarantees the population to obtain the best possible protection .
However, the objectives set by the Ministry of Health have not yet been achieved in an optimal way throughout Italy. In fact, the latest data report a national average of 79.68% coverage in the target population that has completed the vaccination schedule against meningococcus B, compared to the 95% indicated by the prevention plan. We are talking about a serotype which, in addition to being particularly aggressive, is alone responsible for about 80% of cases in childhood, with the highest incidence in the first year of life.
“In Sicily we observe a certain delay in vaccinating children and this affects the recovery of the schedule envisaged to complete the protection – says Mario Cuccia, director of the complex epidemiology operating unit at the ASP of Catania -. Thus, vaccinations that are not among the mandatory ones, provided for by law 119 of 2017, which are necessary for attending kindergarten, are also affected. It follows that recovering the recommended vaccines is not easy”. The most recent data from 2021, specific for the prevention against meningococcus B, report a coverage of 69.35% for Sicily.
“Personally, I would like to have more tools to increase information to families, for example I am thinking of specific interventions within birth centres. Unfortunately we do not have adequate resources with respect to the needs of the population, and on the other hand each region allocates resources in a different way, investing in local medicine”. Even in the face of these difficulties, correct information directed to citizens can be an extra weapon to create greater awareness.
In October, a guerrilla marketing campaign commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline appeared on the main streets of Catania, “La B conta”, marked by graffiti on the road pavement, which carry the invitation to contact your doctor or pediatrician to find out if your children are or less vaccinated against type B meningitis. The initiative, which was quite successful, registering many influxes via QR code reproduced in the graffiti, was also held in Naples and Milan and will soon continue in other Italian centres. “These initiatives, such as the information campaigns on ‘St. Anthony’s fire’ and pneumococcal diseases, are a useful support for raising awareness among families. In our Catanese reality we have conducted a survey, which shows that three out of four mothers go to the pediatrician before going to the vaccination center. Correct information is essential, families need to talk to the health professionals about vaccinations and therefore receive clear information that allows them to make a decision”.
The criticality often concerns the observation of the timing of administration: “Generally parents postpone the choice, however it is important to understand that prevention has specific times to be respected” continues Cuccia. However, there is no lack of sensitivity to the disease: “Although it is not frequent, there is awareness of its seriousness. Meningitis is perceived as disastrous, although rare, the population knows that if it strikes it hurts a lot”.
Faced with a very busy vaccination schedule for the child’s early years, it would be necessary to evaluate tools that help families. “The co-administration of other vaccines together with the one against meningococcus B is in fact not possible, according to the indications of the National Vaccine Prevention Plan – concludes the director of the Epidemiology Unit of the Asp of Catania -. An obstacle that could be overcome but which currently requires further appointments, among other vaccinations which in turn require more boosters. We have a crowded calendar, an aspect that other countries similar to us, such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, are also analyzing. We will see if the new prevention plan will take this aspect into account once it goes into effect”.