Campaigners are keeping their fingers crossed that, after more than a year of negotiations, the meningitis B vaccine Bexsero could finally become freely available on the UK’s National Health Service.
GlaxoSmithKline and the Department of Health are currently locked in talks over a cost-effective price for the jab, which the drugs giant recently acquired through its purchase of Novartis vaccines.
Bexsero was recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in March 2014, but negotiations on price only started in August. According to Meningitis Now, the delay to the vaccine’s inclusion in the immunisation programme may have caused one baby to die every month since the JCVI’s initial recommendation.
“Many more will have suffered devastating consequences including limb loss, acquired brain injury and deafness,” noted the charity’s chief executive Sue Davie, asking “how can it take eight months for two parties to negotiate on one item, especially when that item is a vaccine that will save lives and prevent disability?”.
Opportunity for change
The UK has one of the world’s highest meningitis B rates, killing more of the country’s under-fives than any other infectious illness. “We have in the MenB vaccine a rare opportunity to change this staggering fact and demand that David Cameron and Health Secretary Hunt choose to recognise this anniversary by taking action to ensure its introduction as a matter of urgency”, Davie said.
The charity is calling for a conclusion on negations this week before the dissolution of parliament on March 26. GSK has put out a statement saying it is “committed to reaching a rapid conclusion to ongoing negotiations” so that meningitis B vaccines can be made available to babies in the UK. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC he is hopeful that a deal can be reached "very soon".