BACKGROUND: Vaccination with meningococcal serogroup C (MenC) conjugate (MCC) polysaccharide vaccines led to a substantial decline in MenC disease in the vaccinated and the unvaccinated population. The decline in the unvaccinated population can be explained by herd protection by reduced colonization of meningococci expressing the MenC capsule. The duration of such herd protection is unknown.
METHODS: In a nationwide study from the Netherlands, we compared MenC invasive disease between 1998 and the introduction of MCC vaccination (2002) with that from 2002 to 2012, in age groups eligible and not eligible for vaccination. The proportions of isolates from clonal complexes with high serogroup C capsule expression rate during carriage (sequence type [ST] 11 and ST-8 complex) was compared between the pre- and postvaccination periods.
RESULTS: A total of 814 patients with invasive MenC disease were included for analysis. There was a 99% decline in MenC disease in patients eligible for vaccination and a 93% decline in those not eligible. Thirty-six percent of the overall MenC reduction between the first and last 4 years of the observation period occurred in the unvaccinated population. Clonal complex was determined in 350 (43%) isolates. The proportion of cases caused by clonal complex ST-11 and ST-8 serogroup C meningococci decreased from 251 of 268 (94%) before, to 46 of 57 (81%) after MCC vaccine introduction (P = .004).
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide further evidence that herd protection results from reduced carriage of virulent meningococci. Herd protection was responsible for >36% of MCC vaccine impact and lasted for ≥10 years.