Fresh calls for roll-out of meningitis vaccine in Scotland

Muriel Buick and her son Angus, who was diagnosed with Group B meningitis and septicemia when he was four days old. Picture Ian Rutherford
Muriel Buick and her son Angus, who was diagnosed with Group B meningitis and septicemia when he was four days old. Picture Ian Rutherford
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Fresh calls have been made for a meningitis vaccine to be offered to older children on the NHS as private clinics in Scotland reported lengthy waits for anxious parents seeking the jab for their children.

The meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero, was rolled out on the NHS to babies under a year old last year, with doses at two, four and 12 months.

Parents whose children are not eligible for the NHS programme have been trying to get the vaccine privately after images of two-year-old Faye Burdett dying from the condition went viral on social media.

A global shortage has meant the jab has been unavailable since the start of the year, apart from the NHS programme for newborns which was ring-fenced.

A spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is the only company that manufactures the drug, confirmed new stocks would be available from the start of June.

Scottish clinics have reported waiting lists of more than 700 people, with calls from parents willing to pay up to £400 for the jabs.

Derek Ramsay, owner of JDR Healthcare, which has private clinics in Fife and Perth, said there were around 650 people on the waiting list for the vaccine at a cost of £95.

Meanwhile Roc Private Healthcare, in Aberdeen, reported waiting lists of around 260 people for the vaccine, at £155 per dose.

Office manager Vanessa Kemp said: “We saw a major surge in demand in February. The phones were ringing constantly all day. We had to start a waiting list as there were no vaccines available.”

Dr Eoghan Mac Sweeney, medical director at CityDoc, which has clinics in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, said it had “sizeable waiting lists” across Scotland for the vaccine.

More than 816,000 people signed a petition calling for the jab to be given to older children on the NHS earlier this year but the government said it was not cost effective as the infection is relatively rare.

Around 50 people have died of meningitis B in Scotland in the last 15 years.

Campaigners called for the NHS to fund the jab.

Liz Brown, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: “We welcome the return of the men B vaccine to the private sector and that parents will be able to vaccinate their children against this deadly disease.

“It does not, however, ease the concerns of the families who cannot afford to buy this vaccine privately.

“We have argued consistently that the men B vaccine needs to made available to all children via the NHS.”

The Scottish Government wrote to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which recommends vaccines, earlier this year to ask it to review the advice. A spokesman said: “The JCVI responded confirming that its recommendation on Men B was based on the best available evidence and this remains the case. The JCVI continues to monitor all available evidence.”