OPINION: Call for action over meningitis B vaccine

A meningitis vaccine
A meningitis vaccine
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Rarely has there been a more shocking illustration of the horrific nature of meningitis than the photograph shared by Faye Burdett’s family.

The two-year-old died from meningitis B on Valentine’s Day and her family shared the picture because to gather support for a petition calling for all children to be vaccinated.

A new jab against the B strain of the disease was last September introduced into the schedule of routine NHS immunisations.

However only young babies, born after May 1 last year, are able to have it on the NHS. Anyone with an older child is unable to obtain it unless they pay privately.

As meningitis B is most common in babies under 1, and it is fatal in 1 in 10 cases, many parents decided they would pay, even though it costs at least £90 per injection.

But this demand, plus the introduction of the jab on the NHS, appears to have badly affected supplies.

The manufacturers say there is a shortage for private patients and it won’t be resolved until the summer. That means that parents of older babies and toddlers who want to protect them, including finishing the course of three jabs, are unable to do so.

It’s a worrying situation – and could make it even less likely that the NHS programme will be extended anytime soon.

However meningitis B is still a terrible danger, and for that reason the Government needs to quickly respond to demands for the vaccination to be made more widely available – and put pressure on the manufacturers to ensure that in the meantime, extra supplies for parents able to pay for it privately are developed as quickly as possible.

FACTFILE

Symptoms include fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than a rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.

If someone is unwell, get medical advice before waiting to see if they develop a rash.

Meningitis can be fatal in one in 10 cases, and about one in three of those who survive are left with serious health problems.

The Meningitis Research Foundation is backing studies evaluating the meningitis B vaccination, which is needed to build a case to extend the NHS vaccination programme. Visit www.meningitis.org.

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