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Government plans to fund meningococcal B vaccine for babies if the price is right

The Government is considering including the meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine in the England’s free national childhood immunisation programme for infants starting at two months of age, it was announced today (21 March 2014).

The Department of Health is to start pricing negotiations over the coming months with Novartis, the manufacturer of the Bexsero vaccine, which contains antigens of Neisseria meningitidis group B and costs £75 per dose.

Three doses are needed for primary immunisation for babies aged two to six months, according to the British National Formulary. The company said it was committed to ensuring the implementation of the recommendation as early as the summer.

The decision follows a recommendation from the Government’s expert body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which backed the vaccine’s roll-out provided it is made available at a “cost-effective” price.

The JCVI said the new vaccine would reduce cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia and “lead to a reduction in deaths, limb amputations and brain injury caused by the disease”.

Around 3,200 people in the UK are affected by bacterial meningitis and septicaemia each year, with meningitis B responsible for more than half of those cases, according to Novartis. The infection is fatal in one in 10 cases, or can lead to long-term problems, such as amputation, deafness, epilepsy and learning difficulties.

England’s deputy chief medical officer John Watson said: “We will now be working closely with Novartis in the coming months and if negotiations are successful, we hope to work with other UK health departments to introduce a vaccine to prevent MenB as quickly as possible.” This would make the UK the first country in the world to implement a national programme for the vaccine.

Campaigners welcomed the move. Meningitis Now founder Steve Dayman, who launched a campaign after losing his baby to the disease in 1982, said: “This is the most monumental announcement in the fight against the disease in the 31 years I have campaigned to eradicate meningitis.”

The JCVI has also advised that the vaccine is further extended to three- and four-month-old babies as a one-off catch-up programme when it is introduced. Novartis added that, like infants, adolescents are also at an increased risk of contracting meningitis and have a high fatality rate from the disease.

The Scottish Government said it would be working to ensure that the vaccine can be introduced “as quickly as possible” into Scotland’s routine childhood immunisation programme.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical JournalURI: 11136242

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