Parents hoping to get their children vaccinated privately against the meningitis B virus are being told there is a shortage of the vaccine.
Demand for the Bexsero vaccine has reached unprecedented levels after the publication of photographs of a two-year old girl shortly before she died from the disease on Valentine’s Day.
Private clinics have reported a sevenfold increase in calls from worried parents who are panic buying after having seen the photographs, leading many clinics to run short of stocks.
GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the Bexsero vaccine, said that “unexpected global demand” meant supplies would be low until the summer.
“Although vaccination through the NHS childhood programme has been prioritised and is unaffected, we have unfortunately had to ask private clinics temporarily to not start new courses,” the company said in a statement.
Although many private clinics in the UK are advising parents that their children cannot start new courses of the vaccine, those who have already received the first dose are being prioritised to ensure they receive follow up doses to finish the course.
A recent petition calling to extend the NHS vaccination programme to children up to the age of at least 11 became the most signed online petition in Parliamentary history, attaining more than 800,000 signatures.
The Government has since rejected the petition stating that offering the meningitis B vaccine to all children is “not cost effective” and would be a waste of NHS money.
At present, a vaccine to protect against meningitis B is available on the NHS only to new born babies as those under a year old are 12 times more likely than older children to be infected. Since September, the NHS has offered the jabs to babies aged two months. This is followed by a second dose at four months plus a booster at 12 months. Parents who wish to have older children vaccinated must pay privately.
It is important to stress that the current shortage of the meningitis B vaccine is not affecting the NHS vaccination programme for babies.
Meningitis is a serious infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It affects more than 1,000 people a year in the UK, mainly babies and children. One in 10 of those affected will die.
There are two types of the disease: bacterial meningitis and the more common, but less serious, viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is extremely serious and should always be treated as a medical emergency as if left untreated it can cause severe brain damage and septicaemia.
Babies and children under the age of five are particularly at risk and it is crucial immediate medical help is sought if symptoms such as a high fever with cold hands and feet, seizures and often (but crucially, not always) a distinctive red/purple rash that does not fade when a glass is pressed against it, are identified.
Meningitis can develop very quickly and catastrophic injuries can occur if treatment is delayed for even a few hours. Unfortunately, our clinical negligence solicitors have dealt with a number of claims involving babies and small children who suffered delays in diagnosing and treating this most terrifying of diseases.
Paul Sankey is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Slater and Gordon help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of conditions such as meningitis and cancer due to medical negligence. For a free consultation call our medical negligence solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.