Thousands of teenagers are being offered the meningitis B vaccine as part of a trial to see whether it could prevent the spread of the disease.
The vaccine is normally only routinely given on the NHS to young babies.
But thousands of teenagers are being recruited to a new research project which aims to see whether vaccinating 16 to 18-year-olds can prevent the bug being carried and potentially spread to others.
Researchers are aiming to assess whether giving a group B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine to teenagers reduces carriage of this bacteria in their throat.
The trial, which is being led by experts at the University of Oxford, aims to recruit 24,000 young people to take part in the project.
The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, will see some of the teenagers receive two doses of a MenB vaccine while the others will act as controls.
They will also have two throat swabs taken 12 months apart.
This will help researchers see whether the two meningitis B vaccines reduce the numbers of students carrying the disease-causing bacteria in their throat.
The voluntary trial will be conducted through schools in at least 14 towns and cities in England, Scotland and Wales.
Dr Matthew Snape, of the University’s Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “Participants will not only get a vaccine that reduces their risk of meningitis but also help us understand if we can prevent the bug being carried and potentially spread to others.”
Commenting on the launch of the project, Vinny Smith, chief executive at Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “It’s fantastic news that this study is now starting.
“Not only will it give a number of young people the chance to be protected against MenB, we’ll also find out more about the potential to protect the whole population because this age group play a key role in the spread of the bacteria to others.”
Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive of the charity Meningitis Now, said: “This important study is a chance for young people to make a real difference to not only their own health but that of their wider community.
“We’re delighted to see this vaccine trial being rolled out and would urge everyone who can to get involved and help make a real difference in the fight against meningitis.”
A nationwide petition calling for more children to be given the MenB vaccine earned significant public support following the death of two-year-old Faye Burdett.
The toddler died on Valentine’s Day two years ago after her body was ravaged by sepsis caused by meningitis.
Her family released photos of their dying daughter covered in a rash, prompting more than 820,000 people to sign a petition for the meningitis B jab Bexsero to be given to all children.
Meningitis can develop rapidly and is sometimes mistaken for flu. Those who survive can be left with life-changing disabilities.
Symptoms include a high temperature, feeling or being sick, exhaustion and irritability, a headache and aching joints, stiff neck and dislike of bright
lights, confusion and a rash.