GSK urges teens to 'Take 5' for MenB with new awareness push

Right now, GlaxoSmithKline’s meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero, doesn’t have the key “universal use” endorsement the company wants from the CDC. So it’s spreading the word on its own.

The British pharma giant recently launched a new awareness campaign about preventing the deadly disease, which, according to the drugmaker, accounts for one-third of U.S. meningitis cases.

The effort, tagged “Take 5 for Meningitis,” will use a combination of news media, social media and educational events to help educate young adults--one of the most at-risk groups--and their parents about the havoc MenB can wreak--and the vaccination that can prevent it. The campaign will also complement Glaxo’s wider global awareness effort, “Win for Meningitis.”

Helping with the new initiative will be U.S. Paralympic cyclist Jamie Schanbaum--who lost all of her fingers and both legs below the knee when she contracted MenB in her first year of college--as well as world-famous photographer Anne Geddes, who in 2013 partnered with Bexsero’s former owner, Novartis, on a series of portraits of children who had survived meningococcal disease.

"When it comes to meningitis, what you don't know can hurt you. That's why I have joined with GSK in this effort to educate others about meningitis," Schanbaum said in a statement. "I urge everyone to take five minutes to learn the facts and what they can do to help prevent it."

While GSK and rival Pfizer have boasted FDA approval for their MenB shots since January 2015 and October 2014, respectively, sales haven’t taken off the way the companies had hoped they would. Last year, the CDC's Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) stopped short of granting the universal recommendation Bexsero has in the U.K., whose government last year sealed a deal to cover the jab for all babies. Currently, the vaccination decision in the U.S. rests with patients in their doctors, making awareness all the more crucial.

Pfizer, which markets Bexsero nemesis Trumenba, is also focused on raising the public awareness level, but it’s recently taken a different tack. Earlier this month, it began running a TV ad featuring a mother in the hospital with her MenB-stricken son—and a rundown of his evening’s activities, which shows that kissing a girl and sharing food and drinks with friends at a party could have transmitted the disease.

- read the release

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