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MenB vaccine won’t be extended to children over the age of one, health minister announces

26 April 2016

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The meningitis B vaccine will not be extended to children over one a public health minister announced  at the end of a debate calling for it to be offered to children up to 11.

Jane Ellison told MPs that the groundbreaking vaccination programme, which was launched in September 2015 for children under one, will not be extended to the under fives or to all children under 11.

She took advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said a catch-up programme would not be cost effective at a realistic vaccine price.

The disease is so rare in children aged five to 11 that a vaccination programme would not be cost effective she said, and reminded people that “vaccination is not a silver bullet.”

However, she has asked JCVI to advise her on potentially extending the vaccination programme – the first of its kind worldwide – to the under twos.

 It is thought the current Bexsero vaccine covers three quarters of meningitis B strains.

Vinny Smith, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation said: “We will keep asking for an effective vaccine to be rolled out as soon as possible for the under fives.”

Ellison announced that Public Health England will develop a new national awareness campaign “that will focus on the dangerous infections that parents worry about the most, including meningitis, septicaemia and sepsis. The campaign will focus on the symptoms that parents need to look out for.”

She also announced that a preliminary study of the meningococcal strains carried by teenagers was underway and will report next February.

She was also commissioning a study into whether a meningitis B vaccination programme in teenagers would be cost effective. It will get under way in December 2017, she said.

Her comments came at the end of the parliamentary debate on a meningitis B vaccination programme.

It was triggered by a petition signed by 823,345 people following the death from meningitis B of two-year-old Faye Burdett. Her parents gave evidence to the parliamentary petitions committee in March which also heard from experts.

These included pediatrician Professor Simon Kroll from Imperial College London who said a catch up programme for children under five would have “a vey substantial impact.”

MPs from all parties spoke at the debate about cases in their constituencies of the rapid development of meningitis B, with often tragic or disabling consequences.

SNP politician Dr Philippa Whitford told the debate how lethal the condition is.

 She said: “If someone has seen a child and not spotted meningitis, or seen a child and watched them just slip through their fingers, that is absolutely horrific. Meningitis moves so fast that vaccination has always been the holy grail. We now have it, but we probably have not rolled it out widely enough, because of the cost-benefit analysis.”

She urged parents and health professionals: “Don’t wait for a rash. Do not wait for the rash if the child is quiet, not reacting normally and very feverish. As a doctor, what I would say is of real concern is cold hands and feet. If a child has a fever, yet has cold hands and feet, that to me is a sign of septicaemia – a sign that the blood supply to the extremities is beginning to shut down. That should be a warning sign long before we get to the rash.”