The Department of Health has said widening access to the new meningitis B vaccine, as called for in a petition signed by over 800,000 people, would not be cost-effective.
Since last September the MenB vaccine Bexsero has been offered to infants, free on the NHS, at two months of age with further doses at four and 12 months.
“Offering the vaccine outside of JCVI’s advice would not be cost effective”
A one off catch-up programme also took place for infants born from 1 May 2015 to 30 June 2015 – who were three or four months of age when the programme launched.
The DH said it expected that, by May 2017, all children under the age of two years will have been offered the vaccine. It is also available for a small number of older children and adults who are at increased risk of infection, such as those with no spleen.
“Early indications are that the vaccine has been very well accepted by parents and coverage is likely to be high,” stated the DH.
However, in the wake of media coverage of the deaths of several children from meningitis B, a petition was set up on the parliament website calling for the programme to be extended to vaccinate all children, at least up to age 11.
Responding to the petition, which received a record 819,970 signatures, the DH said in a statement that it was “proud to have been the first, and to date, the only” national, publicly-funded meningitis B immunisation programme.
However, it said the existing age cut-off points for the programme had been made on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which had reviewed all available evidence.
The DH said: “When any new immunisation programme is introduced, there has to be a cut-off date to determine eligibility. While this is extremely difficult for parents whose children aren’t eligible there is no other way of establishing new programmes to target those at highest risk without introducing inequalities.”
The statement added that the NHS budget was a “finite resource”. “Offering the vaccine outside of JCVI’s advice would not be cost effective, and would not therefore represent a good use of NHS resources,” it said..
The DH noted that current rates of group B meningococcal disease were low. In the early 2000s there were more than 1,600 cases in England, compared to around 400 cases in 2014.