Meningitis B vaccine should not be given to babies, committee says

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 14 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i3943

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  1. Anne Gulland
  1. London

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has rejected a call for the meningitis B vaccination programme to be extended to all children under the age of two.

The committee said that there was not enough stock of the vaccine to be able to extend the programme to children aged 12 to 23 months. The vaccination was introduced into the routine immunisation programme for babies under the age of one last year.

The minutes of the JCVI’s June committee meeting, published online on 13 July, said that, while “wider use of the vaccine would be desirable from a public health perspective,” there was unlikely to be enough vaccines available to give to children over the age of 12 months before the 2016-17 meningococcal season.

The committee said that the use of Public Health England’s buffer stock would pose a risk to the current meningitis B vaccination programme.

“Given these concerns the committee agreed that they could not advise the department of health to consider such a catch-up programme,” the committee said.

The call to extend the programme was made after the death of two year old Faye Burdett from the disease in February which led to an online petition that received what was, at the time, a record breaking tally of more than 800 000 signatures.1

Campaigners have called for the vaccine to be made available to all children under the age of five, but the committee said that vaccinating older children was “unlikely to be cost effective.”

Vinny Smith, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said that the charity was “extremely disappointed” with the decision.

“This was a significant opportunity to save young lives from this dreadful disease this winter,” he said.

Meningitis Now chief executive, Liz Brown, said that the charity would keep campaigning for all children under the age of five to be vaccinated.

“We stand for the many thousands of families who are unable to protect their children from this devastating disease because they cannot afford to buy the vaccine privately. We will continue to fight against a system that discriminates against the health of the nation’s children on an ability to pay basis,” she said.

However, David Elliman, immunisation spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that the UK, the first country in the world to offer the meningitis B vaccine, should be proud that babies will benefit from the vaccine.

He said, “The JCVI felt that the priority should be to immunise younger children who were at greatest risk and that nothing should be done to put delivering vaccine to them in jeopardy . . . This must have been a very difficult decision for the committee, but I am sure it is correct under the circumstances.”


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