Novartis has withdrawn thousands of doses of its meningitis vaccine in the UK amid fears of contamination but the company and the country’s regulatory authority say the recall is a precautionary measure.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has issued a precautionary drug alert for two batches of Menjugate Kit. Around 61,000 doses are being recalled, 17,000 of which have already been delivered to GP surgeries and health clinics in the past month.

However the MHRA pointed out that “there is currently no evidence of any risk to UK children, and there have been no reports of any infections following vaccination”. It added that the two batches sent to the UK “passed all the normal tests, including a sterility test, to ensure the safety, quality and effectiveness of the product” before leaving a manufacturing site in Italy and travelling by road to the UK.

Kent Woods, MHRA chief executive, said that parents “should not be concerned over this recall, as there is currently no evidence to show that UK children have been put at risk”. Novartis are recalling these two batches as a precautionary measure, he added.

Novartis sent samples from the same batches overseas to test whether the sample would remain secure under varying air pressure. The samples, which passed sterility tests before transportation, were re-tested when they reached their destination and tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. They were however quarantined by the company and did not enter into any supply chain.

It is not known how many doses of the vaccine have been given to babies and as Steve Dayman, chief Executive of Meningitis UK noted, “while this is worrying, we're pleased to hear Novartis is making every effort to recall the kit and investigate the root cause of the positive sterility test”. He added that the firm has “a reputation of being a safe provider of vaccines and it's important not to lose sight of how successful the meningococcal C conjugate vaccine has been”.

Incidences of death from this form of the disease have dropped by 90% in 10 years. Health Protection Agency figures show there were only 22 cases of meningitis C last year compared to 989 in 1999.