A vaccine that protects against a deadly form of meningitis should not yet be made available to all children in the UK, the Government’s advisors on immunisation have said.
Meningitis B (MenB) kills one in every 10 sufferers and affects nearly 2,000 people in the UK every year – mostly babies, children and teenagers.
A new vaccine, Bexsero, is thought to be effective against 73 per cent of the bacteria that cause meningitis B.
However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that the vaccine was “highly unlikely to be cost effective” and that “key data” about its effectiveness was still missing.
The vaccine, which has been 20 years in development, was licensed by the European Commission in January and clinical trials involved 8,000 people, the manufacturer Novartis said.
The JCVI called for more evidence on the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the vaccine to be brought forward by September, after which it would make a final recommendation to the Government.
Meningitis charities, which have been campaigning for Bexsero to be available on the NHS as a routine childhood vaccination, expressed “disappointment” and “frustration” at the decision.
“Today’s news is a severe blow for everyone campaigning against this dreadful disease. We know every delay costs lives and leaves many more with life-long disabilities,” said Chris Head, the chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation.
One in five meningitis B survivors suffer after-effects including brain damage and hearing loss, while others must have limbs amputated to save them from infection.
The JCVI said in their interim position statement: “On the basis of the available evidence, routine infant or toddler immunisation using Bexsero is highly unlikely to be cost effective at any vaccine price based on the accepted threshold for cost effectiveness used in the UK and could not be recommended.”
The Department of Health’s director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury said: “This is a very difficult situation where we have a new vaccine against meningitis B but we lack important evidence. We need to know how well it will protect, how long it will protect and if it will stop the bacteria from spreading from person to person. We need to work with the scientific community and the manufacturer to find ways to resolve these uncertainties so that we can come to a clear answer.”
Sue Davie, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Trust/Meningitis UK, said: “This is extremely disappointing news after all our supporters and our hard work over decades to introduce a vaccine.
“But we’re pleased to have the opportunity to respond and press our case…We understand the committee’s concerns about impact and cost, but we believe this vaccine is safe and we know it will save lives. The more we delay the more lives are being lost.”
Novartis, the company which manufactures the drug, said it “was not asked for pricing information as part of the JCVI deliberation”.
“The interim position by the JCVI is inconsistent with its recommendations for other meningococcal vaccines. The meningitis C vaccination campaign in the UK, following JCVI recommendation, was a tremendous public health success saving thousands from serious illness and death,” said Andrin Oswald, Novartis’ head of vaccines and diagnostics.
“It is disappointing to see that the decision was mostly driven by financial considerations and without any pricing discussion with Novartis. The evaluation model does not do justice to the vaccine’s ability to prevent babies and young children from dying or surviving with severe lifelong disabilities.”