Meningitis charities call for the Department of Health to address vaccine concerns

Meningitis charities call for the Department of Health to address vaccine concerns

A government report, promised to over 820,000 petitioners calling for wider access to vaccines, could actually make it harder for vaccines to be funded in the future. A public consultation is now taking place on the report.

Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now met with Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, Steve Brine MP, yesterday to ask him to discuss the report and ensure fairer rules are used to fund vaccines in the future. Both charities will respond to the consultation on behalf of families and individuals affected by meningitis.

Background to the report

The report follows campaigns to make access to meningitis vaccines fair. The government’s vaccine advisory group also expressed concerns about the methods used to determine which vaccines were available on the NHS.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who advise the government on vaccines, were concerned that the methods they are obliged to use for assessing which vaccines to fund undervalue the impact of preventing uncommon, severe diseases in childhood – such as meningitis. This meant that access to some live-saving vaccines could be restricted. The MenB vaccine, for example, was at first rejected and when it was finally introduced, was only available for babies.

In response to these concerns, the Cost Effectiveness Methodology for Immunisation Programmes and Procurement (CEMIPP) working group was set up in 2014. While the group considered vaccine decisions, young children continued to die because they could not get access to the MenB vaccine. The death of a young girl, Faye Burdett, led to a huge public outcry and a petition with over 820,000 people calling for greater access to the MenB vaccine.

The government promised petitioners that the CEMIPP report would be published in 2016.

After a long delay the report was published but it did not address the concerns that were the reason the CEMIPP working group was established in the first place. The report did not focus on the issues raised by the JCVI. In fact the report would restrict vaccine access if implemented in full.

Recommendations in the report

The report contains three key recommendations, which would change the way vaccines are funded.

  1. 1.Reducing the amount the government is willing to pay for the benefits that vaccinations offer.
  2. 2. Valuing the lifelong and future benefits of vaccines more than they currently do.
  3. 3. BUT capping the total amount of benefit measured to a set timescale, even if benefits are still predicted beyond this point

A committee of government health economists has stated categorically that these recommendations must be implemented together, without giving evidence or explaining why.

They also suggest that these recommendations could be adopted now for vaccines, with no change to the amount the government would pay for treatments.

Taken together these recommendations would disadvantage vaccines compared to other medicines and government health economists admit that this would signal a shift away from preventing illness in preference for waiting to treat people once they get ill.

The meningitis charities are calling for the Department of Health to:

  • Give clear steps and a timetable from the Department of Health outlining how they will address the original concerns from JCVI relating to preventing uncommon, severe diseases in childhood, such as meningitis - it is clear that the original intention of the report has been forgotten.
  • Implement the evidence based recommendation that could help to address these concerns (reducing the discounting rate applied in economic decision making) which would better account for lifelong and future benefits of vaccines.
  • Reject recommendations that would unfairly cap the true benefits of vaccines.
  • Reject the recommendation to cut the amount of money the NHS would be willing to spend on the benefits vaccines offer by 25% as this has been widely criticised by academics.
  • Provide evidence that explains why they believe the three key recommendations should be implemented together, as proposed, which would unfairly disadvantage vaccines.

Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now have released the following joint statement:

“This government report does not provide answers to over 820,000 petitioners asking for fairer access to free vaccines.

“The current processes for enabling the funding of vaccines are inadequate when it comes to meningitis and other severe, uncommon childhood diseases.

“The government’s own vaccine advisory group has said that they have concerns with the methods used to evaluate the benefits of these vaccines.

"We’re encouraged that the Minister has taken the opportunity to meet with us and hear our views. Families have been waiting for answers since 2014 and it is time for government to take real action to address this issue.”

About meningitis vaccines
About meningitis vaccines
There are vaccines against some forms of meningitis
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