back to top

Government Plans To Tackle Meningitis B "Fall Short", Says Charity

Following the biggest government petition in history, two charities are asking parliament to adopt a 10-point action plan to tackle meningitis B.

Originally posted on
Updated on

UPDATE: Yesterday MPs debated extending the meningitis B vaccination programme.

During the debate, health minister Jane Ellison announced that this summer the government will publish a review into the "cost-effectiveness framework" that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) uses to decides which vaccines are cost-effective and who they should be given to. And a study will be undertaken, starting in December 2017, on whether giving the vaccine to teenagers would be useful for preventing spread of the disease.

The government has also asked the JCVI to advise on whether the vaccination programme should be extended to include children up to the age of 2. But there will be no catch-up vaccination programme for under-5s

Vinny Smith, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Despite progress on several fronts yesterday, sadly these announcements will fall short of what our supporters, members and I imagine the majority of the public will have wanted to hear which was to see under 5’s get access to this vaccine as quickly as possible. For any parent who witnessed the debate, they will find it very hard to imagine how such compelling evidence of the devastating impact of this disease could be set aside on grounds of cost.

“Of course, we’re pleased the cost effectiveness review will be made public. We look forward to hearing the advice the minister receives on extending the vaccine to under 2’s. A teenage evaluation is very welcome news. Likewise a new awareness campaign must be welcomed.

“But awareness is no substitute for up front protection and protecting children didn’t take the major step forward today that it could have done."

Charities Meningitis Now and the Meningitis Research Foundation have teamed up to ask the government to adopt a 10-point action plan they've created to tackle meningitis B.

After the story of Faye Burdett, a 2-year-old who died from meningitis B, emerged last month, a petition asking for all under-12s to be vaccinated against the disease became the biggest in history with 820,000 signatures. Petitions that reach over 100,000 signatures are considered by parliament for debate.

The charities are presenting evidence to MPs on Tuesday. They want:

* Research into whether "peace of mind" should taken into account when considering the cost effectiveness of a vaccine.

* A study to determine whether it would be beneficial to give the vaccine to teenagers.

* A catch-up vaccination campaign for under-5s to be reconsidered.

A meningitis B vaccine programme began in the UK in September 2015, and doses are now given to all children at 2, 4, and 12 months.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

There was also a catch-up programme for all babies born after May 2015. Babies born before that date are not offered the vaccine on the NHS.

Cases of meningitis B currently peak at five months, but under-5s are still at risk and there's a second peak in teenagers.

There are between 600 and 1,400 cases of meningitis caused by group B bacteria in England and Wales per year. One in 10 people who get the disease will die from it, and 1 in 5 survivors will have a permanent injury, such as hearing loss, neurological damage, or an amputation.


The charities are asking the government to "address the unfairness" in the criteria that determines who gets the meningitis B vaccine and who doesn't.

A working group is currently looking at the criteria used to decide who should receive a vaccine, but their findings are yet to be published. The charities are asking for their findings to be published by April, so the public can then be consulted before any recommendations are put into action.

They also want research to be done into how "peace of mind" should be considered in evaluating the cost effectiveness of a vaccine. They say that "the petition demonstrates how much the public value vaccines that prevent severe disease".

They want research to see if giving the vaccine to teenagers would be useful in preventing the disease.


Meningitis B mostly affects under 5s, but teenagers are the biggest carriers of bacteria that cause the disease. According to the Meningitis Research Foundation: "Teenagers are the main carriers of meningococcal bacteria, so if vaccinating them could prevent them from carrying the bug and passing it on, it could protect everyone, including people who aren't vaccinated."

This effect is called herd immunity, and it can help stop a disease outbreak happening.

We don't yet know if the meningitis B vaccine offered on the NHS would stop carriers of the disease passing it on.

They also want the government to reconsider a one-off vaccination catch-up programme for under-5s once data on the effectiveness of the first year of the vaccination campaign is available this September.

Sue Davie, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: "The sad death of Faye Burdett and the overwhelming response across the UK has given the government a unique opportunity to reappraise some of the outstanding issues around the Men B immunisation programme. I would recommend that they grab this opportunity and work with both Meningitis Now and the Meningitis Research Foundation to formulate a programme and plan that delivers on the demands of the hundreds of thousands of people who signed the petition and that is simply to protect our children."

Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Kelly Oakes at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.