UK & World News

  • 21 March 2014, 11:03

Meningitis B Vaccine To Be Free For Babies

A life-saving vaccine against meningitis B will be made free on the NHS for babies, if a deal can be agreed with manufacturers.

The announcement, which represents a U-turn from the Government, comes amid growing pressure from charities and senior doctors.

After rejecting the Bexsero vaccine last year, the Department of Health's advisory body - the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), says it will adopt the Bexsero vaccine.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was sent a letter by clinicians asking him to adopt the vaccine as a way of protecting young children in particular from the disease.

And a JCVI statement said it would be introduced "subject to it being made available by the manufacturer at a cost-effective price".

"The Department of Health will start negotiations with Novartis, which produces the only licensed vaccine, as soon as possible," the statement said.

"The JCVI has recommended adding the vaccination to the primary childhood programme, meaning that, if plans progress, infants will be immunised starting at two months of age.

"The JCVI has also advised that the vaccine is further extended to three and four-month-olds as a one-off catch-up programme when it is introduced."

Deputy chief medical officer Professor John Watson said: "Infants under one year of age are most at risk of meningitis B and the number of cases peak at around five or six months of age.

"With early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment, most make a full recovery.

"But it is fatal in about one in 10 cases and can lead to long-term health problems such as amputation, deafness, epilepsy and learning difficulties."

Meningitis UK said the UK had one of the highest meningitis B incidence rates in the world - affecting an average of 1,870 people each year.

It said that if the plan had been implemented when the vaccine was licensed for use in January 2013, at least 200 people could have been saved from death or disability.

Meningitis Now founder Steve Dayman MBE, who launched the UK's meningitis movement after losing his baby Spencer to Meningitis B in 1982, said: "This is the most monumental announcement in the fight against the disease in the 31 years I have campaigned to eradicate meningitis."

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