Disappointment over meningitis vaccine set-back

Helen Dolphin, who lost all four limbs to meningocaccal speticaemia when she was 22 years old with h

Helen Dolphin, who lost all four limbs to meningocaccal speticaemia when she was 22 years old with her canine partner, labradoodle Yancy, who helps her through day to day life; Photo by Simon Finlay - Credit: EDP pics © 2011(01603) 772434

A Norfolk woman, who lost her hands and legs to meningitis, spoke of her disappointment today after the roll out of a new vaccine was delayed.

An independent panel, which advises the government on which vaccines should be offered in the UK, released a draft statement saying that the treatment against meningitis B should not be implemented.

About 1,870 people contract meningitis B each year in the UK and one in 10 dies.

However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the vaccine, Bexsero, was not cost-effective and should not yet be adopted by the NHS.

Helen Dolphin, 38, of Norwich, who lost her legs and lower arms to meningitis after being misdiagnosed as having flu in 1997, is backing Meningitis UK's Meningitis: Beat It Now campaign calling on the government to roll out the new vaccine, which was licensed by the European Medicines Agency at the start of the year.

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Mrs Dolphin, who works for Ashwellthorpe-based charity Disabled Motoring UK, said: 'It is very disappointing and it is hard to hear that they can not justify it on the grounds of cost. How do you put a cost on what children and parents go through? If you look at the costs of aftercare and prosthetics, it is enormous and I can not understand how they have come to that conclusion.' 'I am sure that the charities and the Beat It Now campaign will not give up on this. I speak to quite a few other people who have had meningitis and see with my eyes what they are fighting and I can not understand this decision by policy makers who do not look at the human cost.'

Meningitis charities said that the vaccine could protect against 73pc of cases of meningitis B strains in the UK.

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But, in a draft statement, the JCVI have said that there is 'insufficient' evidence available to support the introduction of the immunisation. They also said that the efficacy of Bexsero 'has not been established' and it is 'high unlikely' to be cost-effective. However, manufacturer Novartis said that it was not asked for pricing information as part of the JCVI deliberation.

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK, said: 'This is extremely disappointing news after all our supporters and our hard work over decades to introduce a vaccine.

'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.'

Andrin Oswald, division head of vaccines and diagnostics at Novartis, added: '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.'

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, 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.'

Meningitis B, which is most common in children under five years old, and in particular in babies under the age of one, is a highly aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis.

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