Meningitis vaccine stocks 'exhausted'

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Meningitis vaccine stocks have been drastically reduced by the current scare, forcing the Department of Health to buy extra supplies from abroad as an emergency measure.

Yesterday worried parents in Retford, Nottinghamshire, where there have been two cases of meningitis, were told not to bring their children for vaccination because supplies had run out locally.

But a claim by a spokesman for the North Nottinghamshire Health Authority that supplies of vaccine are exhausted throughout Britain was denied by the Department of Health last night.

The spokesman for the health authority said: "We have carried out 7,000 vaccinations and achieved the reduction in the risk of infection that we intended. All the vaccine in the country has been used up and more is expected in Britain next week for those who have not been vaccinated."

But a spokeswoman for the department said: "There are still some essential stocks being held in reserve but we will be getting some more as soon as possible. There is not a large amount left which is why we are ordering more."

She could not say what percentage of normal stocks had been used up but agreed that supplies had been "drastically" reduced. She continued: "The new supplies are coming from abroad and we are expecting them in the next couple of days."

In Rotherham, South Yorkshire, where a teenager died from a rare strain of meningitis, 7,000 people, mostly children and teachers, have been vaccinated. Doctors say they are confident they have reduced the risk of another community outbreak.

Christopher Vernon, 17, a pupil at Wales High School, Rotherham, died on Friday and another pupil from the school, Amy Woodman, 14, is recovering after falling into a meningitis-induced coma. Two girls from Retford, have also contracted the disease. They contracted the rare C-strain of meningitis, which can be passed on by intimate contact such as kissing.

Health officials believe that the outbreak of meningitis in the Retford and Rotherham areas could be linked to a Christmas roller-skating party. Nigel Clifton, chief executive of North Nottinghamshire Health Authority, said: "The roller-skating party links some of the young people in the Retford and Rotherham areas and it may have been one of the ways in which this outbreak occurred."

Geoff Woodman, Amy's father, said that she went to several parties over the Christmas and New Year period and had probably contracted meningitis at one of them.

He added: "Amy did not go to the roller-skating party, but a lot of the people who did came to our house over Christmas and went to the parties."