Should you vaccinate your child against Meningitis B? Rhiane Kirkby discusses the option and highlights the signs of meningitis to look out for.
Meningitis B has rarely been out of the headlines over the past few weeks, with anxious parents across the country calling on the government to vaccinate all children under the age of eleven. Concerns were raised after the image of two-year-old Faye Burdett was shared on social media by her mother, Jenny, in the hope it would prevent another child losing their life to the infection. Since then, more than 700,000 people have added their signatures to a parliamentary petition, making it the most popular in history and private clinics have been inundated with calls from parents wanting to pay for the jab. So why isn’t the life-saving vaccine routinely given to all children? The short answer is money, but the issue is, of course, far more complex.
Currently only babies born after May 2015 are given the vaccine on the NHS as they’re deemed to be the group at highest risk. The government has been keen to point out that independent advisors found the case for immunising even those under the age of one was ‘borderline’ and it only got the go-ahead after a cut-price deal was agreed between the Department of Health and the vaccine manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline.
The Department of Health stresses that any vaccination programme needs to be cost-effective and whilst parents quite rightly ask how a price can be put on a child’s life, the standard government response is that the NHS must allocate its limited resources to the treatments which are the most beneficial. The current Meningitis B programme vaccinates 700,000 babies under age one because they are four times more likely to contract the illness than any other group. The vaccine doesn’t, however, cover all strains and so won’t necessarily prevent the, on average, 101 cases and six deaths each year in this age group. Its effectiveness is also under scrutiny, given the UK is the first country to introduce it as a national programme and despite extensive testing, not all side effects may yet be known.
The government has also been keen to point out that Meningitis B cases as a whole are becoming rarer, down 75% in little over a decade, but these arguments are doing little to quell the fears of parents who are now more aware than ever of the devastating effects of this bacterial infection, which spreads without warning and can kill in a matter of hours. Many, like Chiswick mum of three, Alice Price-Williams are turning to private clinics, which are importing the vaccine and offering it at around £400 for two doses. (A booster is also needed at additional cost if a child is under two.) Alice told Baby London she “freaked out” when she saw the images in the media and felt “terribly guilty” she hadn’t vaccinated her children when the NHS had supplies that could be bought privately by anyone, at a much lower cost. She realises her family is in a fortunate position to be able to afford to pay and is in no way worried about strains not covered or any undetected side effects.
Charities continue to work towards making a case for the extension of the meningitis B vaccination programme, but warn that whether children are immunised or not, lives will only be saved if parents familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of meningitis and seek medical help without delay.
Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together. Be aware of all the signs and symptoms.
DO NOT WAIT FOR A RASH
If someone is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately. Symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.
Fever, cold hands and feet
Refusing food and vomiting
Fretful, dislike being handled
Drowsy, floppy, unresponsive
Rapid breathing or grunting
Unusual cry, moaning
Tense, bulging fontanelle (soft spot)
Stiff neck, dislike bright lights
Early symptoms can include:
Fever, headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet.
Someone with meningitis or septicaemia can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.
Trust your instincts – Get medical help immediately
- A full list of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia
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