A petition signed by more than 500,000 people calling for free meningitis B vaccines for children up to the age of 11 should not decide whether the goverment changes its policy, a senior Conservative MP has said.
Sarah Wollaston, a former GP and chair of the commons health select committee, says it will be difficult for the government to implement the petition - regardless of how popular the petition is.
The petition was set up following the death of Faye Burdett, who died on Valentine's Day after fighting meningitis for 11 days.
In recent days, a shortage of the vaccine has risen with Boots, Britain’s largest pharmacist, and City Doc, the largest vaccine supplier outside of the NHS, saying they had run out of supplies.
Speaking on the BBC, Ms Wollaston said: “If we were to drive vaccination policy entirely by the size of a petition then we would run ourselves into very difficult territory.
"And so, of course, the way the public feel is absolutely crucial as part of that triangle of how you weigh up these decisions but it shouldn’t be in itself the main driver of policy”.
The Conservative MP for Totnes also questioned the financial implications of increased vaccinations.
“If you consider that there are more than 800,000 births a year in this country. In 2011/12 there were 33 deaths from this disease [Meningitis B] but of course you have to also weigh up the burden of the terrible disabilities which some survivors are left with”.
Wollaston said it could be possible to save more children’s lives if they spent money on another area of the healthcare system.
“What would you achieve if you spent the same amount of money on other areas that are causing deaths in children and terrible disability”.
Nevertheless, Wollaston argues the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the body which advises government on this area, should take a second look at how they calculate costs.
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“There is a case for the JCVI looking again at the formula it uses to weigh up cost effectiveness and I think that’s what should now happen as a result of this petition”.
At present a Meningitis B vaccine is available on the NHS for babies aged two months, followed by a second dose at four months and then a booster at 12 months. Any vaccine afterwards must be paid for privately but a global scarcity of the vaccine Bexsero means supplies are very low.
Since graphic photos of the two-year-old from Maidenstone in Kent were released hours before her death, her story, as told by her mother, has been widely shared on social media.
Her mother Jenny Burdett has called for people to sign the petition, which has already garnered over half a million signatures and is set to become the largest online government petition in history.
“All children are at risk from this terrible infection. There needs to be a rollout programme to vaccinate all children, at least up to age 11.”