A “life-saving” vaccine for a form of meningitis is now available in the UK - but only to patients who are willing to pay for it, a charity has warned.
Meningitis Now said that the meningitis B immunisation will cost hundreds of pounds.
The price tag could exacerbate health inequalities between rich and poor people, the charity said.
It has been campaigning for the Bexsero vaccine to be routinely available on the NHS.
A spokesman said Bexsero, the first Meningitis B vaccine to be licensed for use in the UK, could save thousands of lives and spare many from life-changing after-effects such as limb loss, brain damage and epilepsy if introduced as part of the health service’s routine vaccination programme.
In July, the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on vaccinations, delayed a decision to put Bexsero on the NHS.
The JCVI said there was insufficient evidence of cost-effectiveness and is currently reviewing new information on the drug.
But the charity said that it is “unclear” when a decision will be taken.
“The availability of the life-saving vaccine in the UK is a watershed moment in the fight against the deadly disease,” said Meningitis Now founder Steve Dayman.
“The vaccine is one of the most significant leaps forward in the fight - it’s taken decades to develop and stands to save thousands of lives and spare so much misery.
“We welcome that it is now available privately, but believe every parent should have the choice and chance to vaccinate their baby - not just those with means.
“Universal vaccination is the best way to stop the disease.”
He added: “We will continue our Beat it Now campaign to urge the government to make the vaccine available through the NHS as soon as possible - time lost means more lives lost or left with life-changing after-effects.”
The charity’s chief executive Sue Davie added: “We are asking the government to not only consider costs of treating the disease, but the cost of bereavement support for families and after-care for survivors, from prosthetic limbs to lifelong support through school and adult life.
“Our campaign has created a powerful, united voice for people who know too well how meningitis and septicaemia devastate families, friends and communities in mere hours.
“They understand the need for immediate action and that Bexsero should be widely available.”
A spokesman for pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which creates the vaccine, said: “Novartis cannot discuss its price due to commercial sensitivity, but the NHS list price is £75 per dose.”
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