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UK public shows strong preference for vaccines that prevent severe illness particularly for children

14 Jun 2018
UK public shows strong preference for vaccines that prevent severe illness particularly for children

The UK public has a clear preference for funding vaccination programmes which protect young children against severe diseases, study finds.

Under the current method which the government’s vaccine advisers are obliged to use to decide which vaccines are made available on the NHS, vaccines against rare, but severe childhood illnesses such as meningitis and septicaemia, may struggle compared to those that prevent very common, but mild illnesses.

A new study suggests that the public’s preferences about which vaccines are made available on the NHS, are not reflected by the current approach. The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF)-funded study, led by University of Bristol researchers, is published today [13 June] in PLOS ONE.

Decisions regarding which vaccines the government fund are determined by cost-effectiveness analysis. For vaccines, this involves counting the cost of introducing a vaccine, versus the health benefits gained. Measuring such benefits is controversial, partly because assumptions are made about public preferences.

The team interviewed members of the public to determine how they think policy makers should prioritise vaccinations. They found a general consensus that policy makers should prioritise vaccinations preventing severe disease in children as well as disease with high incidence, compared to those that prevent milder infections.

Participants also agreed that decisions on determining whether a vaccine should be made available on the NHS should be based on a number of factors including, age, the impact on families caring long-term for a family member affected by a vaccine-preventable illness or disability, and social groups.

Participants indicated a preference for funding vaccination programmes that protect specific age groups considered to be most vulnerable to disease, particularly the very young and socially disadvantaged children who often have a lower underlying health status and should therefore be prioritised when targeting health benefits.

The findings indicate that the current analytical approach may need to be refined when considering the benefit from childhood vaccinations.

"In the future, this research could help ensure that policy decisions on vaccines consider real life public preferences and that vaccines are prioritised as the public want them to be" - Dr Gemma Lasseter, Senior Research Associate at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions

Dr Gemma Lasseter, Senior Research Associate at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol said, “There is increasing debate about whether the QALY approach is appropriate for assessing the benefit from childhood vaccinations as vaccines against rare, but severe childhood illnesses such as meningitis and septicaemia, may struggle to get approved compared to those that prevent very common, but mild illnesses. In the future, this research could help ensure that policy decisions on vaccines consider real life public preferences and that vaccines are prioritised as the public want them to be - potentially shaping the future of vaccine availability.” 

“The MenB vaccine is one example of how flawed the system is" - Vinny Smith, MRF Chief Executive

Vinny Smith, Chief Executive at MRF: said, “For a long time we have called for a reform of the cost effectiveness rules that put vaccines that prevent uncommon, severe childhood disease at a disadvantage.

“The MenB vaccine is one example of how flawed the system is. When the vaccine was first licensed, the UK government’s vaccine advisory committee did not recommend introducing the vaccine on the NHS based on cost. MRF fought hard to change this by submitting evidence highlighting the devastating burden of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia on individuals and their families. Introducing the MenB vaccine for babies in 2015 was a major step forward, but offering vaccination for this age group alone will only prevent around a quarter of cases and if the vaccine rules had been fairer, more children could have been protected.   

“Vaccination is the only way to prevent diseases like meningitis, and this study shows that the public value protection from severe disease, particularly for children. The rules that govern access to vaccines do not reflect the public’s preferences.”  

The study authors would like to thank all of the members of public that participated in a qualitative interview. They would also like to thank the members of the public and lay members of the Meningitis Research Foundation that took part in a research engagement evening.

Paper:

‘The views of the general public on prioritising vaccination programmes against childhood diseases: A qualitative study’ by G Lasseter et al in PLOS ONE.

Further information

There is currently a UK government consultation on a report about the way decisions are made about vaccines. The Cost Effectiveness Methodology for Immunisation Programmes and Procurement (CEMIPP) working group was set up in 2014 to consider whether the method for making decisions about which vaccines to fund should change. The tragic 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 UK government promised petitioners that a report produced by CEMIPP would be published in 2016. After a long delay this has now been published and Meningitis Research Foundation has been asked to respond to a consultation on the report and represent public views.

If implemented as a package, the current report recommendations would result in the opposite of what the petitioners wanted and would actually make it much harder to get vaccines introduced, not easier.

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