More than 580,000 people have signed a petition calling for children up to the age of 11 to be given the Meningitis B vaccine - making it the most signed on the UK Government website.
The campaign was sparked by the death earlier this month of two year old Faye Burdett, from Maidstone, Ken after pictures of the girl covered in the distinct rash caused the disease and struggling for her life in hospital were released by her parents.
She had not been given the Bexsero vaccine, as she did qualify for it given her age.
Faye’s parents, Jenny and Neil, said the response to the petition since the toddler contracted meningitis B has been “overwhelming”.
They said: “We thought long and hard about the release of Faye’s pictures but we as a family who have been through the devastation of meningitis feel all children should be able to get protected from this cruel disease that took our daughter.
“It’s not just about Faye’s death but also about the maiming of children that do survive the disease. It is life-changing for the child and its family. Prevention must be better.”
The call for the vaccination programme to be expanded comes as senior health sources claimed to The Independent that Jeremy Hunt has privately questioned whether the new vaccine introduced last year to fight meningitis is worth its high cost to the NHS.
Sources claimed that Mr Hunt suggested record low levels of the disease – often described as “parents’ greatest fear” – may not have merited the expensive multi-million pound decision to make the vaccine available on the NHS free to children under one year.
Mr Hunt’s office has vehemently denied that he had made the comments attributed to him.
The Department of Health said in a statement: “Having personally negotiated the deal to introduce the first ever national rollout of a Men B vaccine which will save lives, the Health Secretary believes the programme represents excellent value for money, and has never indicated otherwise.”
The Health Secretary became personally involved in securing the critical deal with GlaxoSmithKline in 2014 that finally helped get the Bexsero vaccine into the NHS’s child immunisation programme.
And a critical questioning of the economic rationale for the vaccination campaign may appear justified, as the introduction of the new vaccine for children under one year coincided with record low 10 year lows of the meningococcal B disease,
Health news in pictures
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But the allegation that he recently questioned the calculations behind the decision to give the vaccine to under-ones will shock parents and campaign groups who are now calling for the vaccination programme to be extended to include all under 5s and potentially teenagers.
Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Now charity, told The Independent that many of the misjudgements and assumptions that stalled the introduction of the vaccine for almost two years, despite it receiving approval from the European Medicines Agency in 2013, were now being made again amid the debate about whether to extend the programme.
Ms Davie said she accepted the vaccine would not be cost-effective at any price, but said a case could be made to introduce the vaccine to under 5s. “In 2014/15 there were 101 cases of the diseases in under 1s, and 139 cases in the age range 1-4. And we know the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) accept these numbers are at the low end of the cycle,” she said.
Meningtis Now, along with other profile pressure groups, are reluctant to get drawn into financial evaluations. But she said only one critical point mattered: “It will save lives.”