This week Public Health England made an interim statement about the newly licensed meningitis B vaccine saying that it was not recommending the use of the vaccine for the NHS vaccine programme for children.
Group B meningococcus (MenB) is a serious cause of meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) that affects about 1000 children and adults per year in England with approximately 10% dying and many survivors suffering long-term problems, including amputations (see information about the disease). From clinical trials, we know that the new meningitis B vaccine will prevent some cases of this awful disease, but we don’t yet know exactly how many, as the full effectiveness of the vaccine cannot be tested until it is used routinely in a large population, since the disease is rare.
While it seems surprising that the vaccine is not being recommended, the decision is based on rules which are used for all drugs and vaccines that say that any new treatment for the NHS must be cost-effective. The information available to the committee evaluating the vaccine for the NHS showed that it did not meet this financial criterion and they therefore could not make a recommendation for its use. The interim statement makes an important point that we really do need to examine how well this vaccine works against this terrible disease if we are to decide whether it could be used by the NHS, and the best place in the world to do this would be the UK. We have a vaccine for meningitis B; it’s time to find out just how well it would protect our children.
News items featuring comment from Professor Andrew Pollard, Director of Oxford Vaccine Group: