Observations View from Westminster

Perils of launching a new vaccination campaign

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g2449 (Published 03 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2449
  1. Frank Dobson, member of parliament for Holborn and St Pancras, London, UK
  1. patelm{at}parliament.uk

Launching a new vaccination programme—like last week’s recommendation for meningitis B vaccine—is tough, says a former health secretary, who describes his own battle with civil servants

The welcome announcement of the decision to reverse last year’s postponement of the introduction of a new meningitis B vaccine1 prompts me to recall the obstructions I encountered when seeking to introduce the meningitis C vaccine in 1999. It all got off to a bad start. I was told there was a major problem. A collaborative programme with drug companies, started by the previous government, had succeeded in developing a new vaccine against meningitis C. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “The vaccine will be available sooner than it was expected.” “So what?” I asked. “There is no budget for it.”

I was reminded of Winston Churchill’s description of the Treasury: “Like inverted Micawbers waiting for something to turn down.” To some officials, the availability of the new vaccine wasn’t a great opportunity; it was a problem. They emphasised that the Treasury wouldn’t like it and the comptroller and auditor general would be on the lookout for any overspend. It was even suggested that the vaccination programme could be postponed by stringing out the official clinical clearance process and having lengthy consultations with health economists, ostensibly to convince the Treasury and the comptroller and auditor general.

This seemed to me preposterous. At that time, meningitis C was affecting around 1500 people a year, mainly children and young adults, killing 150 and leaving many more maimed for life. Also, at that time the Treasury had been paying out billions of pounds to …

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