Lizzy Buchan: Anger as meningitis B vaccine only available to some

Parents have mixed feelings as the vaccine is made available to some but not all. Picture: PA

Parents have mixed feelings as the vaccine is made available to some but not all. Picture: PA

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This week’s announcement that stocks of the meningitis B vaccine are available to private clinics once again is likely to stir conflicting feelings in many people.

Bexsero, the first treatment for the devastating disease, has been available on the NHS since last year but only to children born after June 2015.

For some parents this might not have been an issue but a string of shocking cases has brought the issue right to the fore.

The harrowing pictures of two-year-old Faye Burdett’s rash-covered body as she lay dying from meningitis B in her hospital bed spread like wildfire across social media and news websites, after her parents released the images.

A petition to extend the vaccine to older children gained more than 820,000 signatures, making it the most-signed in history.

The panic that followed saw a run on private clinics by anxious parents whose children were not eligible for the NHS programme.

One Scottish clinic described how the phone rang constantly for days, with parents willing to pay hundreds of pounds to keep their children safe.

A global shortage of the vaccine meant clinics had to create lengthy waiting lists to keep up with demand. Some behaved badly, by hiking up their prices.

Now the vaccine is available again, it is crucial that we do not lose our heads.

Whatever a parent wants to do for their child is their business, but it is important to remember that the NHS has to think of everyone’s children.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which decides what jabs are provided on the NHS, has repeatedly said it is not cost-effective to give every child the injection.

It is not a simple thing to put a value on a life, and I am sure this decision has not been taken lightly.

The UK is the first country in the world to introduce meningitis B into the routine vaccination schedule, and children under the age of two are the most at risk.

The scientists behind the decision say more time is needed to see how well the vaccination is working before it can be rolled out more widely.

Meningitis B is also quite rare. Around 50 Scots have been killed by the infection in the last 15 years.

While each of these cases is undoubtedly devastating, the number is a fraction of those killed by cancer, heart disease or complications from diabetes. But there is no vaccine for cancer whereas there is a jab which can stop meningitis B in its tracks.

Some parents can pay £155 per dose to ensure their child is safe, but many cannot. The whole point of the NHS is to prevent this kind of terrible inequality, where the depth of your pockets determine your safety or that of your child.

Of course, the health service has a finite pot of money so it is inevitable that tough choices will have to be made.

But debilitating effects of this infection will also cost the NHS and individuals dearly.

It is encouraging that the JCVI is promising to keep close watch on the situation, ready to review its guidance if need be.

That said, the Scottish Government is not legally bound by its decisions so it could make a different choice if it needed to.

In the meantime, it is vital that pressure is put on the drugs companies to come up with a fairer price for the health service and for patients.

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