Revealed: new jab ordered for all babies

Vaccination against bacterial meningitis planned. Campaigners raise MMR-type health fears
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A new mandatory jab for all babies in Britain is being planned by health chiefs, The Independent on Sunday has learned. News of the proposed vaccination to protect against bacterial meningitis can be revealed a day after ministers unveiled a wholesale shake-up of the childhood inoculation regime.

A new mandatory jab for all babies in Britain is being planned by health chiefs, The Independent on Sunday has learned. News of the proposed vaccination to protect against bacterial meningitis can be revealed a day after ministers unveiled a wholesale shake-up of the childhood inoculation regime.

Under the new arrangements a "five-in-one" jab will protect babies from whooping cough, diphtheria, hib, tetanus and polio. It will replace an injection that contained mercury, a substance that has been linked by some researchers to autism.

But what ministers did not reveal were plans to extend the list of inoculations further and introduce another new jab: this time against bacterial meningitis.

News that babies face yet another routine inoculation is certain to dismay campaigners who have been angered by the new "five-in-one" jab. Opposition MPs last night warned that the Government risked provoking a fresh MMR-style controversy because it had failed to come clean about the shake-up.

Supporters say the immunisation, licensed as Prevnar, could save some 40 lives a year. The minutes of most recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation show studies have been ordered to "find the most effective way to implement the vaccine into the UK schedule".

The joint committee's chairman, Professor Michael Langman, said that there remained a number of "complex" issues surrounding the introduction of the vaccination against the bacteria which can lead to pneumonia and meningitis. But it is clear from the committee's minutes that the decision has become a matter of "when" and not "if" the jab is introduced.

A new 20-year study published in the journal Archives of Childhood Diseases this month has added weight to those supporting its introduction. Dr Richard Slack, one of its authors, said there was now enough evidence to support the move. Children are already routinely vaccinated against the meningitis B and C strains: this would protect against the pneumococcal form of the disease.

But the cost implications of giving the new vaccine to all the 1.4 million infants in Britain under two are massive. And opposition MPsrounded on the announcement insisting that the Department of Health was risking provoking a parents' revolt unless it could provide adequate reassurance over the new jab's safety.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "There may be good reasons to introduce this but ministers must do more to take the public with them." Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, warned that there could be no repeat of the chaos where "pre-licence trials had been proved to have been inadequate".

The introduction of another new jab is certain to be controversial among parents.

Jackie Fletcher, the founder of Justice, Awareness and Basic Support (Jabs), a support group for parents, which campaigns for safer immunisation, said she was extremely worried. "I am not anti-vaccine - they have been designed for a good reason - but I am concerned that we do not end up in another situation like MMR," she added. "We want to see more choice, with vaccines designed around what is right for the individual child."

Jonathan Harris, also a member of the group Jabs, maintained that it would be "counter-productive" to introduce another jab.

"Parents are already faced with one new jab," said Mr Harris. "When it comes to adding new vaccinations to the schedule, it is important to proceed very cautiously. The Government must show that all necessary safety trials have been completed."

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