Parents were urged yesterday to continue vaccinating their children against meningitis C despite reports that 11 people had died following immunisation.

Parents were urged yesterday to continue vaccinating their children against meningitis C despite reports that 11 people had died following immunisation.

The Government denied any link between the deaths and the vaccination, saying all those concerned had suffered from unrelated conditions.

Jackie Fletcher, a spokeswoman for Justice Awareness Basic Support, said: "These deaths are devastating. It needs to be investigated publicly with the greatest urgency. The classic response is to say there is no evidence to support a link. The Department of Health instantly dismisses a link, so there is no investigation. We know it [the vaccine]was brought out 12 months ahead of schedule. What we want to know is what pre-licence trials were carried before introducing it on a mass scale."

The programme has been the subject of considerable debate since it was rushed into place last year to combat an expected rise in cases over the winter. To date 14 million babies, children and adults have been vaccinated in a programme credited with reducing incidence of the disease by 70 per cent.

But disclosures over the weekend that 11 people had died after being vaccinated have reignited fears that immunisation could lead to fatal reactions.

Liam Fox, shadow health secretary, urged ministers to respond to the allegations. "Failure to respond is an abdication of ministerial responsibility, will damage confidence in this vital aspect of public health policy and... fuel speculation that fears may be justified."

The deaths were reported to the Medicines Control Agency but never made public by the Government. Last night a Department of Health spokeswoman said they were "extremely confident" of the jabs' safety. "I am not surprised the deaths were not made public, because they have been investigated and any links were categorically ruled out," she added. "This kind of thing frightens parents, parents who might have already made appointments, and then there is the threat of meningitis C if they are not immunised.

"Meningitis C killed 150 children last year and this jab will save all of those lives. People should continue with the programme," she said.

The department said two of the 11 people who died had existing heart conditions, six died of cot death and one of a convulsion 10 days after he was vaccinated.

Though two deaths were attributed to "septicaemia meningicoccal" - group B meningitis - it was a "completely different disease" from the meningitis C, the spokeswoman said.

Since the immunisation programme began there have been 16,000 reports of adverse reactions - a figure which the DoH insists is to be expected - although opponents believe it is a very conservative estimate of the number of people suffering problems.

The Liberal Democrat science spokesman, Evan Harris, yesterday backed the Department of Health.

"Early findings suggest it has saved lives and these reports of potential adverse reactions from GPs are to be expected from such a widespread campaign. The reports are almost certainly not an indication that the vaccination is unsafe. Parents should continue to get their children vaccinated," said Dr Harris.