Delay in introduction of meningitis vaccine may cost lives

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Campaigners in the UK have warned that the delay in the introduction of a newly approved meningitis vaccine will cost lives. The UK has one of the highest rates of the meningitis B strain globally.

Vaccination experts put forth a recommendation that all children be provided with the new vaccine against this strain earlier during this year. However, the introduction of the vaccine has been placed on hold as the Government continues price negotiations with the pharmaceutical company.

The UK is in second place on the highest meningitis B list in Europe, with 1900 cases per year. Ireland is in first position. Experts have warned that the disease will cause the death of one in ten people who contract it, and one in three of those who survive will continue to suffer from severe disabilities. The disease kills more under five-year-olds that any other infectious disease in the country.

Bexsero, a vaccine against MenB, was licensed by the EU during January 2013. The UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation approved its use by the NHS during March, but this was subject to it being available at a suitable price.

Andy Hopkinson from the charity Meningitis Now (UK) said that they hope the negotiations taking place between the vaccine company and the UK Department of Health will be concluded quickly. He said that the vaccine could save thousands of lives, but there is no cause for celebration until the first child is able to receive the vaccine free of charge.

Data that was presented at the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases in Dublin showed that the mortality rates remained high because by the time children reached hospitals, they were too ill for effective treatment.

The Division Head of Novartis Vaccines, Andrin Oswald, has called on the government to act quickly and said that they are willing to work with the UK Government to commence the process of procurement.

The Head of Immunisation at Public Health England, Dr Mary Ramsay, said that it is a complex procedure to introduce a new vaccine and the organisation is aiming to implement the programme in a safe manner, subject to the vaccine being procured at a cost-effective price by the Department of Health.

She stated that after clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health intervention globally to save lives and promote good health.

She said that the UK boasts one of the best immunisation programmes worldwide and are a frontrunner in rolling out new vaccine programmes.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health confirmed the recommendation of the introduction of the MenB vaccine provided it could be obtained at a cost effective price. He stated that it was vital that money used on new immunisation programmes is not taken from NHS funds which would offer more benefit if it was spent on other services or treatment.

The Department of Health spokesperson stated that negotiations with the manufacturer are due to commence shortly and the department is keen to reach a positive conclusion in order for the programme to be implemented.

Image Credit: VCU CNS

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