Experts in the UK have backed a vaccine for the deadly meningitis B disease to be administered to UK infants after saying last year that the shot was more expensive than it was worth. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has now endorsed the meningitis B vaccine to the government provided they find a “cost-effective” price with the manufacturer. The JCVI, the Department of Health’s advisory board, faced rising pressure from meningitis charities and doctors to reverse the original decision.
Meningitis B is a bacterial infection in the tissue surrounding the spinal chord and brain that leads to inflammation in those areas. The disease affects approximately 1,870 people every year and 10 percent of those who contract the illness die. One in four people who contract the illness have severe permanent effects, such as loss of limbs or brain damage. Other long-term effects can be epilepsy, deafness and learning disabilities. Anyone can become infected with meningitis B, but young babies under a year old are at the highest risk, especially around five or six months of age. If the disease is diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics most of those infected can make a full recovery. However, the disease is still very dangerous.
The JCVI recommended the vaccine be introduced into the current immunization schedule due to the effectiveness of the shot. There are to be three rounds of immunizations at two months old, five months old, and one year old. This will affect approximately 700,000 babies yearly.
Although there are other meningitis vaccines, the Novartis-developed Bexsero vaccine is the only one that protects against the meningitis B type. Studies have shown that the shot is 73 percent effective against the different meningitis B strains. It has been certified for use in Europe since January 2013. At first, the JCVI did not approve the vaccine because of the cost, but now experts are backing the meningitis B vaccine for UK infants and the government will work on price negotiations with Novartis. Novartis has said that it is ready to distribute the shot as soon as the Department of Health procedures are set up.
JCVI chairman and University of Oxford professor of pediatric infection and immunity Andrew Pollard recognized that the disease “can be devastating” especially to infants. Therefore, the JCVI as a whole decided that the immunization would reduce those devastating effects and would “make an important contribution” to UK health. They hope negotiations go quickly, so the immunization can be distributed as soon as possible. If successful, the UK would be the only country to “implement a nationwide vaccine program.”
Meningitis organizations are thrilled by this outcome and believe that the implementation of the shot will decrease meningitis-related deaths, amputations and brain damage.
The JCVI backing the meningitis B vaccine for UK infants is an enormous decision. University of Bristol vaccine expert and pediatric professor, Adam Finn called the JCVI’s decision “complex, difficult and brave” because of meningitis control and “future vaccine development against severe, but rare infections.”
By Rebecca Hofland
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