Should the government be allowed to prevent children from receiving the meningitis B vaccine or will the persistence of their parents prevail?
WARNING: This article contains images which some readers may find distressing.
Meningitis B is an infection of the protective membrane around the brain and the spinal column which if contracted, could lead to severe brain damage, amputations of limbs and even death.
At present, parents all over Britain are imploring the government to raise the age limit to 11 of children who are eligible to receive the meningitis vaccine, and to make it available on the NHS for free. At the moment, this isn’t the case at all. The NHS, which only offered the meningitis vaccine last September, has only made it available to newborns up to two months of age. There is a second dose at four months of age and a final booster at 12 months, but that only applies to those who were under six months of age when the vaccine was introduced. This means that all those who are not eligible yet still vulnerable to the infection are left unprotected.
Parents with children who are not eligible to be vaccinated under the NHS must pay privately. This is not a simple request – at £200 per shot, it’s extremely expensive, and of course, the more children you have, the more you have to pay. Even worse, even if parents are prepared to pay the high price, there is currently a shortage of the meningitis B vaccine, leading to exceedingly long waiting lists. The manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline hopes to have increased UK stocks by July 2016. Fortunately, the NHS is unaffected by this shortage, but what about those who are ineligible? Not everyone susceptible to the disease can receive the vaccine, so what does that mean for them?
What is being done about this?
After the death of Faye Burdett, her parents started a petition to force the NHS to make the vaccine available to children up to the age of 11 so all those susceptible can get the protection they deserve. At over 800,000 signatures, this has become the most signed petition in the UK, aided by the story of Faye Burdett, as well as the son of rugby player Matt Dawson, both of whom suffered from the disease. However, if the government won’t allow those who need to be protected, how can we make sure that our children don’t suffer the same fate?
Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP and Chair of the Commons Health Committee responded to the petition by claiming decisions about vaccinations should be guided by science and cost-effectiveness rather than “public pressure”. On the contrary, the petition isn’t a symbol of “public pressure” but instead a sign of parents’ genuine worry and fear for their children. They don’t want their children to die, especially not in the same way Faye Burdett did, just because she wasn’t eligible for the vaccine. Being “eligible” and being “susceptible” mean two different things in this case and it is high time the government realised that this is a problem, rather than giving an outright “no” to such proposals.
Dr Wollaston believes that parents should consider the possibility of spending money on alternative methods which could save more lives. If the vaccine was given to all those who needed it now, there wouldn’t be such a problem. If money can be better spent, what alternatives are there? Would they target the problem accordingly? Parents need results, and they need them now. Providing a vague answer to an important question is useless.
Should the vaccine be offered on the NHS?
The vaccine should be made available to those aged 11 and under, or at least discounts should be offered to those susceptible, because at the core of this is a simple concept – prevention is better than curing. That is the whole point of vaccinations and is why they are produced.
Vaccination is a major factor in reducing the spread of the diseases and further eradicating them. How can this be ignored just because they aren’t cost-effective? Antibiotics, another reason life expectancy has increased globally, aren’t cost-effective to produce, especially new ones that aim to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance. The result of this is that we have now placed ourselves in a situation where people can die of a common cold due to antibiotic resistance, as a result of the negligence of government and pharmaceutical companies. Do we want the same to happen to our children because something isn’t cost-effective? Vaccinations were introduced because prevention is far better than curing. It would be good for the government to remember that.