Following the tragic death of Faye Burdett from Meningitis B on Valentine’s day an online petition began to circulate to campaign for the recently introduced vaccination against the illness to be rolled out to all children under 11, not just for children aged 2-4 months. The petition became the most popular in parliamentary history gaining over 800,000 signatures.
After consultation with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) last year, the Secretary of State for Health agreed funding for a vaccination programme for babies aged 2 months or older as of 1 September 2015, i.e. babies born on or after 1 July 2015. A one off catch up programme was recommended by JCVI for infants born from 1 May 2015 to 30 June 2015 to ensure that those infants were offered the vaccine before the winter peak of the disease. The programme means that by May 2017 all children under the age of 2 years will have been offered the vaccine.
In response to the petition, the Department of Health have stated that they will not be considering extending the programme and making the vaccine available to all children.
The vaccination programme was agreed for children in the 2-4 month old age range as they were seen to be those most at risk of MenB. The decision was not taken lightly and research into the effectiveness of a vaccination programme was carried out as part of the consultation process. Although older age groups were considered, it was deemed that it would simply not be cost-effective to offer the vaccine outside of the JCVI’s guidelines and would not therefore represent good use of NHS resources.
Whilst it is difficult for parents whose children are not eligible for the vaccine, any new immunisation programme must have a cut off date to determine eligibility.
In the Department of Health’s response to the petition, they stated that whilst the MenB vaccine would offer immediate protection, not all strains are covered by the vaccine and as such it is important that for parents to be alert to the symptoms of meningococcal disease which can include:- fever, blotchy skin, refusal to feed, irritability, cold hands and feet, rash, muscle pain and a stiff body with jerky movements or else floppy and lifeless.
Anyone with concerns should seek urgent medical attention.
Although a formal response to the petition has now been issued, it is still scheduled to be debated in the House of Commons.
If you or anyone you know has been affected the issues raised in this article please contact our Clinical Negligence Team on 0800 316 8892 who will be able to advise you further.