UK government rejects calls for meningitis B vaccine for all children


A petition calling for the GSK's meningitis B vaccine Bexsero to be given to children of all ages has been rejected by the UK's Department of Health.

A total of 816,000 people have signed the petition calling for wider use of the drug after media coverage of children dying from meningitis B.

Two-year-old Faye Burdett died from the disease last month, and her parents went public with a graphic and shocking picture of their daughter covered in the meningitis rash to highlight its dangers.

This sparked the online petition, but the Department of Health says immunising children of all ages, rather than only those most at risk, would not be cost-effective.

The UK launched its first ever meningitis B vaccination programme in September, immunising babies at 2, 4 and 12 months of age born on or after 1 July 2015. Bexsero is now part of the routine immunisation schedule, with babies born on or after 1st May as part of a one off catch-up campaign. For those babies born before 1 May, the vaccine can still be accessed privately for a fee.

In response to the petition, the Department of Health said, as quoted by the BBC: "The NHS budget is a finite resource, it is therefore essential that [the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's] recommendations are underpinned by evidence of cost-effectiveness.

"Offering the vaccine outside of JCVI's advice would not be cost effective, and would not therefore represent a good use of NHS resources which should be used to benefit the health and care of the most people possible."

The media coverage has caused many parents to pay for the vaccination privately, forcing GSK to ask private clinics to temporarily suspend any new vaccinations until summer 2016 because of the shortage.

Bexsero has proven to be a thorny and persistent issue: negotiations over its inclusion in the routine childhood immunisation schedule took months of bartering between GSK and the Department of Health. Seven months after initial negotiations began, a price of £20 per dose - dropped from the original list price of £75 - was agreed upon.

Negotiations initially began when Bexsero was still owned by Novartis, however, its eventual 'asset swap' with GSK, six months into negotiations with the UK government, seemed to open the door for a final agreement between parties.

The immunisation programme will see around 800,000 annual childhood vaccinations in the UK with an average cost of £16 million. The hope is to achieve the same results as the introduction of a national meningitis C vaccine in 1999 which has since led to the virtual elimination of the disease in the UK.

Andrew McConaghie

3 March, 2016