Government confirms U-turn on meningitis vaccine
A vaccine against meningitis B will be added to the routine immunisation programme, subject to negotiations over cost, the government has confirmed.
The Bexsero vaccine was licensed in Europe in January but ministers were advised against adopting it due to a lack of evidence of its effectiveness.
A statement issued by the Department of Health at around 9.30am today confirmed earlier reports in the Independent newspaper that the government was set to announce that the recommendation against the jab had been reversed.
Meningitis B, which is most common in children under five-years-old, and in particular in babies under the age of one, infects the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Of the estimated 1,870 cases of meningitis B each year in the UK around one in 10 people affected will die and one in every three will be left with debilitating after-effects, according to campaigners.
Fearful parents have turned to private clinicians to have their children vaccinated at an average cost of £300, the Independent newspaper reported.
The Meningitis Now charity has campaigned for the Bexsero vaccine to be available on the NHS in the hope of saving thousands of lives and sparing many from life-changing after-effects.
Around 200 scientists and researchers backed a petition last month calling for a reappraisal of the recommendation made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on vaccinations.
According to the Independent, sources close to health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the committee had noted the criticisms by leading researchers and physicians and had subsequently reversed its conclusion that the vaccine was not cost-effective.
The Department of Health announced this morming that it “will work to introduce the meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine into the childhood vaccination programme”.
The JCVI said evidence showed the Bexsero vaccine is “effective in preventing MenB in infants and should be rolled out, subject to it being made available by the manufacturer at a cost-effective price”, the DH said.
It said it would start negotiations with Novartis, which produces the vaccine, as soon as possible.
“The JCVI has recommended adding the vaccination to the primary childhood programme meaning that, if plans progress, infants will be immunised starting at two months of age,” the department added.
In addition, the JCVI has advised that the vaccine be further extended to three and four month-olds as a one-off catch-up programme when it is introduced.
Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “We hope to work with the other UK health departments to introduce a vaccine to prevent MenB as quickly as possible.
“This would make the UK the first country in the world to implement a nationwide vaccination programme.”
Meningitis Now founder Steve Dayman MBE, who launched the meningitis movement in the UK after losing his baby Spencer to meningitis in 1982, added: “This is the most monumental announcement in the fight against the disease in the 31 years I have campaigned to eradicate meningitis.”