‘End vaccine delay to save children’s lives’

The Bexsero MenB vaccine has been recommended for infants at two, four and 12 months. Picture: Getty
The Bexsero MenB vaccine has been recommended for infants at two, four and 12 months. Picture: Getty
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A CHARITY has warned that a meningitis vaccine, which has been delayed because of price negotiations between the UK government and the manufacturers, should be introduced as soon as possible “to save lives”.

It is now a year since the body that advises the Department of Health on immunisation recommended the Bexsero MenB vaccine should be made available to children.

Discussions between the department and the drug company over the price of the vaccine began in August last year, following the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

It said the vaccine should be offered to children at two, four and 12 months.

The current delay affects the whole of the UK, with babies in Scotland aged two months at the point of introduction eligible for the meningitis B vaccine, while JCVI has also advised that when the programme starts there should be a one-off, opportunistic catch-up programme for children aged three and four months who would have not had the opportunity to receive the vaccine at two months of age.

Deputy chief medical officer, Professor John Watson, said last year that he hoped a “cost effective price is reached rapidly” but warned that NHS funds must be used “as effectively as possible”.

Last week health chiefs announced a plan to launch a large-scale immunisation programme to protect teenagers against the deadly meningitis W disease after a steep rise in cases.

But, in welcoming the announcement, Sue Davie, of charity Meningitis Now, called for movement on the meningitis B vaccine, saying it could protect children from the W strain too: “Surely now we will see the negotiations between the government and vaccine producer being concluded and the MenB vaccine introduced to save lives now and protect babies not only against MenB but MenW as well,” said Davie.

The Department of Health has said that negotiations were continuing.

Dr Ian Maconichie, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “One year on, we appeal that a decision is made imminently, so should the vaccine be introduced, it can begin to save children’s lives and spare some from severe preventable disability as soon as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it remained committed to the introduction of the MenB immunisation programme: “We are currently awaiting the outcome of negotiations between the UK ­government and the manufacturer, Novartis, for the supply of the vaccine, Bexsero. We are continuing to provide all support required to the UK government to ensure this vaccine can be introduced as quickly as possible into Scotland’s routine childhood vaccination schedule.”