As the new year approaches and a general election looms,
I hope one of the Government’s resolutions will be to move faster in negotiations
to introduce a meningitis B vaccine for babies.
Meningitis B is a highly aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis
which infects the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The
UK has one of the highest meningitis B incidents rates in the world, affecting
an average of 1,870 people each year. Anyone can get the strain, with one in ten
affected people dying, and one in three survivors suffering lifelong
after-effects. It kills more children under five than any other infectious
disease in the UK. And meningitis B kills in hours.
Last March the Government announced that the UK's first
lifesaving vaccine for meningitis B will be free on the NHS for babies. This
vaccine, Bexsero, was first licensed by the European commission in January
2013. Unfortunately, the vaccine has still not been introduced. The Department
of Health is still in negotiations with Novartis (the manufacturer of Bexsero)
to agree the price at which the vaccine can be introduced into the NHS
childhood immunisation programme.
When it is finally introduced, the vaccine will be offered
to babies from two months of age. A total of three doses will be given at two,
four and 12 months. Babies who are already three and four months old when the
vaccine is introduced will also be offered it as part of one-off catch up
programme. The vaccine is already available on the NHS for a small number of
children who are at risk of infection, at a cost to the NHS of £75 a dose.
These include children with no spleen or those with a disorder of the immune
system called complement deficiency.
There have been some 1,000 new cases of meningitis B
since this vaccine first became available and the cost to the NHS of treating
those with this terrible illness is huge. The need for wider application of the
vaccine is urgent. The Government cannot afford to drag its heels in agreeing a
price for the widespread use of the vaccine. This misery has to end now.