On Monday 25th April, just one day after World Meningitis Day, MPs gathered in parliament to debate the availability of the Meningitis B (MenB) vaccine to children in the UK. The debate was the result of the UK’s most signed petition, which requested that all children under the age of 11 should receive the MenB vaccine free of charge.The petition, which gathered over 820,000 signatures, gained momentum after the tragic death of meningitis victim, 4 year old Faye Burdett, and the highly publicised story of rugby star, Matt Dawson’s, son who survived the disease.
Currently the vaccine is offered to babies at two months, four months and a booster at 12 months as part of the routine NHS childhood vaccination programme. It was widely hoped that the parliamentary debate would conclude with the decision to increase the meningitis immunisation schedule to include older children. However, the UK government has previously been hesitant to widen the meningitis immunisation schedule due to the restrictions from the current ‘cost-effectiveness’ framework implemented by the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI).
As a result of the public disapproval of the current framework, it has been decided that there will be a review of the current cost-effectiveness rules. It is hoped that the results of the review will be made available to the public and that the review will suggest adjustments to allow for further vaccines to be made available in order to prevent needless deaths from infectious diseases.
Subsequently, there has been a government commitment to fund a study into teenage intervention for MenB that will begin in December 2017. It will investigate the plausibility of teenagers being carriers of the organisms that cause meningitis. Whilst the delay of the study is disapointing, this is a positive development as there is potential for herd protection by vaccinating adolescents as carriers.
Unfortunately the debate excluded any commitment to introduce a further catch-up campaign for under-fives. In absence of this offer of further protection, the government has agreed to fund a disease public awareness programme that will be launched in the autumn. Although the most effective form of protection against meningitis is vaccination, the campaign will hopefully inform the public about the signs and symptoms of the disease and prepare people to act quickly if they suspect any signs of illness.