It was a record breaking petition. But the Department of Health has dismissed the concerns of parents in the UK seeking to have the meningitis B vaccine to be extended to all children free-of-charge. "The NHS budget is a finite resource," the department said.
As of 2 March 2016, a total of 817,617 people signed the petition for the government to give meningitis B vaccine to all children and not just newborn babies as is the current practice. In a statement, the government said its priority is to "protect those children most at risk" of meningitis B, in line with the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The government said that it was essential that the JCVI's recommendations are underpinned by evidence of cost-effectiveness. "Offering the vaccine outside of JCVI's advice would not be cost effective, and would not therefore represent a good use of NHS resources which should be used to benefit the health and care of the most people possible," the statement added It said that with any new immunisation programme, a cut-off date has to be set to determine eligibility.
"While this is extremely difficult for parents whose children aren't eligible there is no other way of establishing new programmes to target those at highest risk without introducing inequalities. It said that the committee did consider the 1-4 year old age groups but did not advise a catch-up programme in view of the "marginal cost-effectiveness of even the infant programme."
A programme for adolescents was considered but further research was needed. Preparatory research has been commissioned and is underway, the Department of Health said. It pointed out that not all strains of the group B meningococcal bacteria are covered by the vaccine and that cases can still occur in vaccinated infants and children.
The petition is the most signed one on the Downing Street website and MPs are due to debate the request. However, it seems that a discussion could be pre-empted following a formal response from the government which effectively ruled out any change.
The government's scientific advisers recommended against a wider programme given the cost - an estimated £20 per dose - as well as the falling cases of the disease. According to the Department of Health, in the early 2000, there were more than 1,600 cases in England, compared to around 400 in 2014. Last year, there were 418 confirmed cases of meningitis B and 25 deaths, mainly in young children,