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Meningitis can affect anyone of any age, but it is more common in children under five and teenagers aged 15-19. Invasive meningococcal disease (including meningitis and/or septicaemia) caused by meningococcal B is three times as likely to affect babies under the age of 1 year as any other age group.  It is also more common in 1-4 year olds than other age groups.[1] 

The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) is the independent advisory body that is responsible for providing advice to the Secretary of State for Health on vaccinations. It has conducted an assessment of the evidence on the Meningococcal B vaccination (MenB) (Bexsero) and published its final position statement in March 2014.  The JCVI recommended that the introduction of an infant programme at 2, 4 and 12 months of age would be cost effective if the vaccine could be procured at a lower than list price.

The JCVI highlighted that infants under one year are those most at risk from meningococcal disease and an infant programme would provide direct protection for this group.

Following the recommendations from the JCVI, the Department of Health entered into negotiations with the vaccine manufacturer. It was reported in March 2015 that an agreement had been reached regarding the price of the vaccine.  The MenB immunisation programme started in September 2015 across the UK, in line with the recommendations from the JCVI.

The UK is the first country in the world to introduce the MenB vaccine to its routine childhood vaccination programme. In response to a Parliamentary Question in December 2015, the Under-Secretary of State for Health reported that cost effectiveness analysis models estimated that the meningitis B vaccination schedule would prevent 325 cases, 66 severe cases and 6 deaths a year in England.[2]

A petition that calls for all children, at least up to the age of 11 years, to be given the MenB vaccine was created on the Parliament and Government petitions website in September 2015. The petition received increased attention in February 2016 following the publication of pictures of Faye Burdett, a two year old girl who died of meningitis B on 14 February 2016.  Her parents are in support of an extension of the vaccination to all children.[3] 

The Petitions Committee considered the petition on extending the meningitis B vaccination on 23 February 2016 and agreed to schedule a debate. However, they said that they would like the House of Commons to hear from medical experts and families affected by meningitis B prior to the debate. 

The Department of Health have responded to the petition. They have said that the programme introduced protects those most at risk from meningococcal B disease, and is in line with the recommendations from the JCVI. 

The Petitions Committee and the Health Select Committee have held two joint sessions on the petition. One of these was a roundtable event with families affected by meningococcal disease, and a second heard evidence from charities, healthcare professionals and representatives from the JCVI and Public Health England. 

A number of issues were raised during the sessions, these included consideration of extending the vaccine to older children, a review of the cost-effectiveness analysis used by the JCVI, raising awareness of meningococcal disease amongst families and health professionals and the progress with the study into adolescent meningococcal B carriage. Professor Pollard, the Chair of the JCVI reported that the Public Health Minister had requested that the JCVI reconsider the MenB vaccination in the 1-2 year age group and that they would be looking at this in the near future.

The meningitis charities (Meningitis Now and the Meningitis Research Foundation) have also recently announced a ten point meningitis MenB action plan.  This includes calling for the Government to fund research into how peace of mind health benefits can be included in cost-effectiveness analysis and that a catch up campaign for under 5s to be reconsidered by the JCVI in light of a new fairer cost effectiveness framework and emerging data on vaccine effectiveness

A debate on this petition has been tabled in Westminster hall on 25 April 2016, and will be led by Ben Howlett MP.

[1]     PHE, Invasive meningococcal B infections laboratory reports in England by age group & epidemiological year, 1998/99-2014/15, October 2015

[2]     HC Written Question, Meningitis: vaccination, 2 December 2015

[3]     Meningitis Now, Faye’s story, 16 February 2016

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