A leading UK health charity has welcomed news that a vaccine against the potentially deadly meningitis is again available on the high street.
The private availability of the Meningococcal (Men B) vaccination was severely limited earlier this year due to a global shortage.
However, high street chemist Boots has announced it will this week introduce a limited quantity of the vaccine to its stores.
The news has been welcomed by charity Meningitis Now, which said the worldwide shortage had seen the cost of the potentially life-saving drug shoot up to restrictive heights and had denied many children access to it.
The Men B vaccine, Bexsero was added to the NHS childhood immunisation programme in September 2015, but controversially, is only offered to babies born on or after 1 May 2015, meaning that thousands of under-5s in the UK are not protected from the life-threatening disease.
Recent data published by Public Health England shows that 57 per cent of all Men B cases in 2014/15 occurred in children in this age group.
Boots UK first launched the service in November 2015 and offers the vaccine privately, at £95 per dose.
Liz Brown CEO at Meningitis Now said: “We welcome the fact supplies of the lifesaving Men B vaccine is returning to Boots UK and other private clinics and hope that this will put downward pressure on pricing and reduce the over-inflated fees being asked in some practices.
“While we recognise and acknowledge there is a large group of parents that are willing and able to pay for the vaccine privately, we know there are many that can’t afford to pay.
“In April 2016 the Government decided to ignore the wishes of 823,000 people who had signed the biggest-ever parliamentary petition calling for the Meningococcal B (Men B) vaccine to be extended to all under-5s. Add your child’s name to our open letter to Jeremy Hunt and give children a voice in the ongoing campaign to get them protected.”
Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord and is usually caused by bacteria or viruses. It is often accompanied by the blood poisoning septicaemia.
There are around 3,200 cases in the UK every year and one in ten of those who contract it will die, while at least a third will suffer lifelong effects such as hearing loss, epilepsy, limb loss or learning difficulties.
While it can affect people of any age, babies and young children are most at risk while people between 15 and 24 are also a higher-risk group.
The early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to flu and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain.
The more specific signs and symptoms include fever with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, confusion, pale blotchy skin, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and a rash which doesn’t fade under pressure.
In babies, symptoms can also include being floppy and unresponsive, dislike of being handled, rapid breathing, an unusual, moaning cry and a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head).
For more information visit www.MeningitisNow.org. Freephone helpline 0808 80 10 388.