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MPs reject calls to extend meningitis B vaccination to older children

Awareness-raising campaign about signs and symptoms of the disease to be launched following parliamentary debate 

The government has rejected calls for the meningitis B vaccine to be extended to children up to the age of 11, following a parliamentary debate.

The discussion was prompted by an online petition, which was started by father Lee Booth who learned that his eight-month-old daughter was not eligible for the vaccine on the NHS. The petition  received more than 820,000 signatures.

The debate also came after the death of two-year-old Faye Burdett, after which her parents released photographs of her dying from the disease.

Since September 2015, meningitis B vaccinations have been given to children aged two months, with a second dose at four months and a booster at 12 months. It is not yet known how effective the vaccination is.

Charity Meningitis Now has campaigned for children up to age five to be vaccinated. Meningitis Now nurse Claire Donovan told Nursing Standard: ‘Meningitis is a disease feared most by parents. Children under 5 years are at higher risk of contracting it, with more than 50% of cases occurring in this age group.’

Some parents have been paying privately to have their children vaccinated, if they can find a clinic that holds the Bexsero vaccine that is required.

Ms Donovan said: ‘Many parents feel strongly that they should not have to pay to have their child or children vaccinated, especially when they are in a higher-risk age group.’

Following the debate, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health Jane Ellison told the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) committee: ‘I cannot support extending the Meningitis B vaccination programme to older children.’ She added that the committee would consider all the points made in the debate.

She also said: ‘I have asked Public Health England to develop a national awareness campaign that will focus on the dangerous infections parents worry about the most, including meningitis, septicaemia and sepsis.’

Ms Ellison confirmed that a preliminary study of the meningococcal strains carried by teenagers will report in February 2017. One in four teenagers carry these strains in the back of their nose and throats.

The government has said it is not cost effective to extend the vaccination programme. MPs have called for Bexsero manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline to reduce the cost of the vaccine.  

Experts at Meningitis Research say consideration must be given to the full costs of caring for a child who survives meningitis but is left brain damaged. 

Meningitis Research medical information officer Claire Wright said: ‘The JCVI has placed greater importance on immediate health gains than future ones. If the cost effectiveness framework is looked at, we believe that it would be cost effective to extend the vaccine at least up to the under 5s.’

For more information about the signs and symptoms of meningitis, click here

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