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Immunisation panel refuse meningitis vaccine roll-out for children

A vaccine which protects against a potentially deadly form of meningitis should not be offered to children in the UK, immunisation experts have said.

The independent panel, which advises the government on which vaccines should be offered in the UK, released a draft statement saying that the treatment against meningitis B should not be rolled out.

Meningitis charities have expressed their “disappointment” at the decision, saying that the vaccine could protect against 73% of cases of meningitis B strains in the UK.

The Bexsero vaccine was licensed by the European Medicines Agency at the start of the year.

As a result, ministers asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to assess the evidence and advise on whether or not the vaccine should be introduced in the UK as part of the immunisation programme.

But, in a draft statement, the JCVI have said that there is “insufficient” evidence available to support the introduction of the immunisation.

They also said that the efficacy of Bexsero “has not been established” and it is “high unlikely” to be cost-effective.

However, manufacturer Novartis said that it was not asked for pricing information as part of the JCVI deliberation.

The charities, which have launched a petition called “Beat it Now!” calling for the vaccine to be part of the childhood immunisation programme, said thousands of lives could be saved if all children had access to the vaccine.

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK, said: “This is extremely disappointing news after all our supporters and our hard work over decades to introduce a vaccine.

“We understand the committee’s concerns about impact and cost, but we believe this vaccine is safe and we know it will save lives.

“The more we delay, the more lives are being lost.”

Andrin Oswald, division head of vaccines and diagnostics at Novartis, added: “It is disappointing to see that the decision was mostly driven by financial considerations and without any pricing discussion with Novartis.

“The evaluation model does not do justice to the vaccine’s ability to prevent babies and young children from dying or surviving with severe lifelong disabilities.”

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: “This is a very difficult situation where we have a new vaccine against meningitis B but we lack important evidence.

“We need to know how well it will protect, how long it will protect and if it will stop the bacteria from spreading from person to person.

“We need to work with the scientific community and the manufacturer to find ways to resolve these uncertainties so that we can come to a clear answer.”

Dr David Elliman, immunisation representative for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Nobody doubts that meningococcal B disease can be catastrophic and that all reasonable means should be taken to prevent it.

“However, before introducing a new vaccine or drug, it is important to be sure that not only is it safe and effective, but bearing in mind the increasing financial pressures on the NHS, it also has to be cost-effective.

“Money spent on the vaccine is money not spent on something else. Unfortunately, evidence on these points is either lacking or conflicting.

“It should be possible to fill some of these gaps in knowledge and then the decision should be reconsidered.”

Meningitis B, which is most common in children under five years old, and in particular in babies under the age of one, is a highly aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis.

It infects the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage, septicaemia or even death.

Meningitis UK estimates that there are 1,870 cases of meningitis B each year in the UK. It says that one in 10 people affected will die and one in every three will be left with debilitating after-effects such as loss of limbs or brain damage.

 

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