Meningitis B Vaccine Rejected by Government

Wednesday, 02 March 2016

Despite a petition signed by more than 800,000 people after two-year-old Faye Burdett died from meningitis B, the government has rejected the call for a vaccine to be given to all children up to the age of 11.

The Department of Health responded to the petition by saying it would not be cost-effective to provide the vaccine to children who were not in the highest risk groups (infants offered the vaccine at two and four months, followed up with a booster at 12 months).

According to the department, it was following the advice of scientific advisers from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation). The statement said that the Department of Health’s priority is to protect the children most at risk of meningitis B, in line with the recommendation from JCVI. It went on to say that offering the vaccine outside of the advice wouldn’t be cost-effective and therefore would not represent a good use of NHS resources.

The outcry for all children to receive the vaccine was brought on by the photographs posted by Faye Burdett’s parents before she became ill and as she struggled with septicaemia as a result of the meningitis B.

Ex-England rugby captain Matt Dawson heightened the campaign when he told of his son Sam, also aged two, who battled and survived meningitis C, a type of meningitis that has a successful vaccine in place. This vaccine has dramatically brought down the number of cases.

At last Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions, backbench Conservative MP Helen Whately asked David Cameron what the government planned to do in response to the campaign. The Prime Minister offered his condolences to Faye Burdett’s parents, before pointing out that the UK is the world’s first country to have a vaccination programme. He said that the advice was to target vaccination towards younger children. He also said that out of 276 who contracted meningitis B, more than 100 were under the age of 12 months. He concluded that all evidence should be looked at carefully by the government and the expert bodies advising them.

In its March 2014 decision, the JCVI said that Bexsero, the meningitis B vaccine, would only be cost-effective for the youngest babies. There were 613 lab-confirmed cases of meningitis B in England and Wales in 2011-2012, with 33 deaths and 10 percent of survivors having major disabilities.

The department said that by May 2017, all children under two years old will have been vaccinated. In a few years’ time, all under 5s will have had vaccinations if their parents wish it. Research is to be conducted to find out if there is an argument for vaccinating adolescents, as there has also been a regular spike in cases for them.

The Meningitis Research Foundation has expressed disappointment over the government’s decision. The organisation understands that the NHS budget is finite, but the rules regarding cost-effectiveness undervalue the prevention of severe diseases in children. They said the government’s calculations simply do not take the level of public concern into consideration.