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Abigail Ringer considers the recent decision of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation not to routinely provide Meningitis B vaccination to all children under the age of two.
In July 2016 the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation published their decision not to introduce the Meningitis B vaccination to all children under the age of 2 years old. This decision came as a disappointment to the UK’s leading meningitis charities, Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now, who campaigned for an extension of the existing vaccination programme to include children up to 2 years of age.
Meningitis is an infection of the protective layers of tissue surrounding the brain and can cause permanent brain damage and death. In 2013, it was reported that over 300,000 people died from meningitis worldwide  and some of these deaths would have been prevented by vaccinating against the disease.
Last year the Meningitis B vaccination was introduced to all babies under the age of 12 months across the UK born after 1st May 2015. Although babies under 1 year old are most at risk of the infection, children between 13 and 24 months are still at a high risk and it is for this reason that charities have been campaigning for the meningitis vaccination programme to be extended to older children too.
Despite pressure to extend the vaccination to older children, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation reached the conclusion that there were currently insufficient stocks of the vaccine available to immunise all these children.
Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, responded to the decision: “Vaccinating children under two years old against Men B meningitis and septicaemia would have made a significant, life-saving difference to vulnerable members of our families, so we are extremely disappointed with the JCVI’s conclusion. This is a significant opportunity missed to save young lives from this dreadful disease this winter.”
Liz Brown, Chief Executive of Meningitis Now commented, “We are hugely dismayed by today’s decision, but will continue to campaign passionately for all children under the age of 5 to receive this lifesaving vaccine.”
As part of a team of lawyers working with families of children who have been affected by delays in diagnosing meningitis, and having seen impact of meningitis, particularly when it is caught late, I fully support the need to introduce this programme of extended vaccination as soon as possible.