A petition to extend the NHS meningitis B immunisation programme to cover all children in the UK has attracted over 600,000 signatures, exceeding the 100,000 mark which means it must be considered for debate in parliament.
The surge in signatures came after the devastating impact of the disease was highlighted by the death of two-year old Faye Burdett last Sunday. Faye’s mother shared heartbreaking images of her daughter shortly before her death to show just how vicious the infection is, describing their ordeal as ‘a pain you cannot describe’.
Meningitis B is a bacterial infection that most commonly affects children under the age of one. Currently, the vaccine to protect children against meningitis B that was introduced in September 2015 is available for babies born on or after the 1st of July 2015. A catch up programme was offered to babies born on or after the 1st of May 2015, but parents to older children are forced to pay for the vaccination privately.
Meningitis Now wants the catch-up to be extended to all under-fives, the group most at risk (although the risk is highest for the under-ones subgroup). Babies starting the programme while less than six months old have three doses in total. Children older than six months need two doses, which can cost parents as much as £400 in total in a private clinic.
High Street pharmacists and private clinics have been inundated with requests for the vaccine – clinic comparison site WhatClinic.com said inquiries about vaccines had soared by 700% in a week. Nevertheless, scientists have warned that a decision should not be rushed into. The Meningitis Research Foundation’s Head of Research, Linda Glennie, said that more details about the vaccine’s effectiveness were needed because it was brand new and could not be tested in a large cohort study because of the rarity of the disease. As such, the UK’s immunisation programme will provide the first test of real-life effectiveness, she said.
“The vaccine is based on new technology,” said Glennie. “It’s predicted to cover between 73% and 88% of circulating strains in the UK but that is a prediction based on testing blood of people in trials in test tubes. That’s not the same as actually knowing it works. We need to look at the evidence.”
A JustGiving page has been set up in Faye’s memory to raise money for the Evelina hospice.
To sign the parliamentary petition, click here.