UK rejects meningitis B vaccine
- 24 July 2013
- From the section Health
The only vaccine to protect against a deadly form of meningitis should not be introduced in the UK, the body that advises governments on immunisation says.
About 1,870 people contract meningitis B each year and one in 10 dies.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the vaccine, Bexsero, was not cost-effective and should not yet be adopted by the NHS.
Meningitis charities have been campaigning for it to be introduced.
It is mostly children under five who are at risk from the bacterial infection, which leads to inflammations of the brain and spinal cord.
Of those who survive a meningitis B infection, one in four is left with life altering after-effects such as brain damage or limb loss.
There are vaccines against other forms of meningitis, but the jab developed by Novartis is the only one thought to protect against meningitis B.
Tests have suggested the vaccine is effective against 73% of the different strains of the disease. It was licensed for use in Europe in January 2013.
However, there are questions about the effectiveness as very large trials would be needed to show how it affects the number of cases or how it would control the spread of the bacterium. So far no country has introduced the vaccine.
The JCVI said: "On the basis of the available evidence, routine infant or toddler immunisation using Bexsero is highly unlikely to be cost effective at any vaccine price based on the accepted threshold for cost effectiveness used in the UK and could not be recommended."
Prof David Salisbury, the director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: "This is a very difficult situation where we have a new vaccine against meningitis B but we lack important evidence.
"We need to know how well it will protect, how long it will protect and if it will stop the bacteria from spreading from person to person.
"We need to work with the scientific community and the manufacturer to find ways to resolve these uncertainties so that we can come to a clear answer."
The UK introduced a vaccine against another form of the disease, meningitis C, in 1999. There used to be around 1,000 cases a year, but now the disease affects only a handful of people.
Tilly Lockey, from County Durham, had meningitis B. Her mum Sarah supports the introduction of a vaccine after her family's experience.
She told the BBC: "She was just suddenly crying out for me `mummy, mummy, mummy' to being blue grey mottled skin, to just going unconscious and me thinking I'm her mam I just want to look after her, I'm supposed to protect her and there's nothing, nothing I can do to save her at the moment.
"All I could do was pass her over to the hospital and hope to god they would save my little girl."
Chris Head, the head of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "Today's news is a severe blow for everyone campaigning against this dreadful disease. We know every delay costs lives and leaves many more with life-long disabilities.
"The UK's child mortality rates are amongst the highest in Europe. We simply cannot afford to let this licensed vaccine hang in limbo any longer.
"There is a tiny window of opportunity over the holiday season to encourage a change of heart and we are urging our members and supporters to lobby their MPs while we submit yet more, potent arguments to the JCVI on why this vaccine is vital."
Sue Davie, the chief executive of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK, said: "This is extremely disappointing news after all our supporters and our hard work over decades to introduce a vaccine.
"We understand the committee's concerns about impact and cost, but we believe this vaccine is safe and we know it will save lives. The more we delay the more lives are being lost."