Comment

The meningitis B vaccine shouldn’t depend on a parent’s finances

Why I paid three times the recommended price to protect my daughter

This week I became part of the scrum who believed the media hype about the meningitis B vaccine and paid over the odds to have it administered privately to their young children.

As a health journalist for 15 years, I have seen every negative health story there is. Just like any nurse, I still find each case interesting and emotive, but it gets to a point where even the saddest stories must become like water off a duck's back in order to function.

Working at Nursing Standard, I have also learned to look behind the more sensationalised news headlines and consider the facts. Often some of the stories that capture the public's imagination are not quite as dramatic as the headline writers would have us believe.

But this month the story of little Faye Burdett has tugged at my emotions, because the two year old died of meningitis B, a disease now preventable with a simple vaccine.

As a journalist who reads the facts, I know meningitis B is on the decline. I know that my daughter is unlikely to get it. But as a mother, the 'what ifs' began to creep in as I saw more and more pictures in the media of dying children and toddlers with amputated limbs.

So I joined the mass of parents on the hunt for one of the last available vaccines in London. This week I took my toddler to a private practice and paid almost three times the recommended price for a precious dose of Bexsero.

That night, as she began to feel the side effects, I comforted my usually happy and playful daughter and came to terms with the fact my decision had caused her such distress.

But what's a bit of vomit, a high fever and tears compared with the alternative of uncertainty, and the risk (albeit small) of intensive care?

And that leaves with me with another conundrum. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford the vaccine, but many can't. Yet that does not mean they worry less about meningitis.

I support the NHS and understand it is at breaking point financially. I understand that, as unfair as it may be, it cannot provide everything to everyone.

The plight of Faye Burdett has led to an unprecedented number of signatures on a petition calling on the government to provide the meningitis B vaccine to all children under 11.

But I hope the forthcoming parliamentary debate these signatures have prompted is a fair one. I hope MPs take the right advice and consider the facts and possible repercussions before decisions are made.

Being a parent is worrying enough, without having to put a financial price on whether or not your child receives a life-saving vaccine.

To sign the petition click here

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