Health charities have heralded the announcement that all babies in the UK will soon have a potentially life-saving vaccine against meningitis B as a “great step forward” in the fight against the disease.
As part of what is being described as a landmark deal, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain would become the first country in the world with a nationwide meningitis B vaccination programme after the Government reached an agreement with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.
The decision follows recent controversy over the Bexsero MenB vaccine after it emerged it was still not available to children despite being recommended by health advisers a year ago.
The drug will now be added to the national childhood immunisation scheme, meaning babies will receive the first vaccine at two months old, followed by two further doses.
There are about 1,870 cases of Meningitis B each year in the UK. It is a particularly deadly strain of the disease, and can be fatal or cause serious life-changing disabilities.
Mr Hunt said: “I am very proud that we will be the first country in the world to have a nationwide MenB vaccination programme, helping to protect our children from a devastating disease.
“MenB can be severely disabling or fatal, especially in babies and young children.
“Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare so I am delighted that we have reached an agreement with GSK to supply the vaccine.”
Discussions between the department and the drug company over the price of the vaccine began in August last year, following the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The Department of Health will now work with GSK to secure supplies of the vaccine and bring it into the national immunisation programme, likely to be from September this year.
Leading meningitis charities have welcomed the deal. Sue Davie, chief executive of Meningitis Now, said: “To know that babies will be protected against MenB is fantastic and another great step forward in our fight against meningitis.
“Families for whom this comes too late, and for whom we will always be here to support, have campaigned tirelessly and selflessly with us to make sure no other families suffer as they have.”
Chris Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “MenB has been at the top of this charity’s agenda for decades and we are delighted that vaccinating all babies against this devastating disease is now within sight, cementing the UK’s position as a world leader in meningitis prevention.
“When this vaccine is introduced it will save lives and spare countless families the trauma of seeing a loved one die or become seriously disabled because of MenB. At this time we pay tribute to all those who have been personally affected by this disease and to all the scientists and health professionals involved in the creation of the vaccine.”
The manufacturer said the deal was “fair value” for the health service. Nikki Yates, general manager of GSK in the UK said: “As a British company, we are delighted to have concluded an agreement with the Government just three weeks after we acquired the vaccine, which offers fair value to the NHS and at the same time is sustainable for GSK.”
The vaccine is likely to be available in Scotland from September. A Welsh Government spokesman said a price for the vaccine has now been negotiated.