More than 700,000 people have signed a petition calling for more children to be vaccinated against meningitis B. One mother tells Catherine Scott why the jab is vital for her baby.
Anna Rudkin knows what it is like to be told your child has meningitis. Her 11 month old daughter Sophia contracted the killer disease just before Christmas.
“It is the worst thing in the world to hear,” says the Sheffield solicitor and univesrity lecturer. “Your first thoughts are is she going to die, and your second thoughts are what damage will this disease have done.”
Luckily Anna and husband Jonathon’s quick thinking in taking Sophia to A&E probably saved their daughter’s life, but now they have joined the battle to get the meningitis B vaccination.
“Sophia a different strain to meningitis B but we have been told that she could be more susceptible to it because of that.”
Ironically just before Sophia fell ill har parents had been planning to pay privately to have her vaccinated as she was born three months too early to receive the jab on the NHS.
“Before Sophia was poorly it had been just about the only thing parents at our NCT baby group were talking about,” says Anna. “We all felt it was very unfair that our children who were born just weeks before the cut off missed out. Most of us had decided to pay the £500 to get the job privately. You just don’t take risks when it comes to your children, but then Sophia fell ill.”
Babies under one are most at risk and are four times more likely than any other age group to contract meningitis B.
From September 2015 all babies born after May 1 were offered the Men B vaccination, but Sophia was born a few weeks premature on March 12.
Parents of babies under one born before May 1 are advised to get the jab privately. But due to the demand the vaccination is now in short supply and private vaccinations have been stopped.
In a statement GSK, the manufacturers of the vaccine said: “Due to unexpected global demand for Bexsero during 2015, we are experiencing supply constraints during the first half of this year. Although vaccination through the NHS childhood programme has been prioritised and is unaffected, we have unfortunately had to ask private clinics temporarily to not start new courses of vaccination.”
But that is of no help to the Rudkins who have been told despite the risk to Sophia, she still doesn’t qualify for the vaccine on the NHS.
“We are desperate to have her vaccinated but we cannot find anyone who has any of the vaccine. We know Sophia is of greater risk but there is nothing we can do that is a really frightening feeling.”
Sophia, who is the Rudkin’s only child, started with what they thought was a cold just before Christmas.
“When she didn’t improve we took her to the health visitor and then the GP who said it was likely just to be a virus,” explains Anna.
“But then she took a turn for the worse. She had quite a high temperature, her hands and feet were cold and she was very listless. I don’t know why, may be it’s a mother’s instinct, but I knew something was very wrong. She had no rash like a lot of children get with meningitis, but I just wasn’t happy and so we took her straight A&E.”
It was this decision that could have saved their little girl’s life.
Tests confirmed she had a form of meningitis and also a urinary infection. She was put on a drip to give her strong antibiotics.
“You are just terrified, you think she is going to die. It was really hard for her dad. She is very tiny and they struggled to canulate her. She was born prematurely and spent the first week of her life in hospital. You just think this poor litle thing has been through enough.”
Although Sophia’s condition deteriorated once they got to hospital, once the anitbiotics kicked in she started to stabalise.
“It is then that you start to worry about whether she has any lasting damage.”
Further tests revealed Sophia’s hearing was okay but she still has to be monitored to see if she has any developmental issues.
The Rudkins have joined more than 700,000 people to sign a petition calling for the vaccination programme to be extended to all children up the age of 11.
It followed the death of two year old Faye Burdett on Valentine’s Day. Her parents posted pictures of their little girl covered in a rash in hospital just hours before she died. Former England rugby player Matt Dawson also revealed that his two year old son Sam had contracted the disease.
Now MPs have agreed to debate the issue , but they want to hear from famillies affected by the disease first.
The petition is backed by charity the Meningitis Research Federation.
Vinny Smith, CEO of the Meningitis Research Federation says “In the light of the unprecedented levels of public interest brought about by the MenB petition we call on the government to urgently examine this vital issue. This petition has done a wonderful job of highlighting the importance of increasing access to the vaccine for children at risk.”
“I feel really let down,” says Anna. “I don’t understand how it can be serious enough for some children to have the vaccine but not others. Surely if it is serious enough for some to have it then they all should.
“Both me and my husband work, we have paid our National Insurance and yet when we need something vital like this we are told we need to pay for it privately, which we would do, but not everyone can afford to do that.”
Although Anna and Jonathon are looking forward to celebrating Sophia’s first birthday on March 12 they are still worried.
“It is horrible to live with the knowledge that you are putting your child at risk by not having them vaccinated against this terrrible disese but there seems to be nothing we can do.”