Bacterial meningitis is one of the most feared of all childhood infections in Britain. It is capable of killing or disable within hours of symptoms emerging. And yet with proper information it can be identified with a simple test, which too few parents are aware of.
Vaccine campaigners are up in arms over the fact that that the bodyset up to advise the government on immunisation has not recommend the introduction of a vaccine against the most common cause of the disease.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has decided that a vaccine against meningitis B (MenB) is simply not cost-effective. One wonders if the vaccineate against everything brigade are more concerned about childrens’ health or drug companies profits. The cost of vaccinating every child, set against the low effectiveness rating of the vaccine and the cost per dose simply do not justify the introduction of this vaccine.
The vaccine has taken 20 years to develop and was licensed throughout Europe in January 2014. Health committees in France and Spain are considering the vaccine but no country has yet recommended its introduction.
The JCVI is the vaccine equivalent of NICE, the body that advises the NHS on new medicines. Given that NHS resources are finite, each committee has to decide whether a new product is cost-effective. This is done by using an internationally recognised system known as quality-adjusted life years (QALY).
A QALY is an assessment of how many extra months or years of life of a reasonable quality a person might gain as a result of a treatment.
One of the biggest supporters of vaccines in the academic community is on record as having said if a medicine or therapy cost one million pound per person but saves one life it should be used without question. From that it is easy to see why the pro – vaccine lobbys ravings should be treated with scepticism.
To be cost-effective, any new vaccine, cancer medicine or heart treatment should cost no more than £20-30,000 for every QALY it saves.
The JCVI has concluded that the MenB vaccine did not meet the economic criteria at any level. In other words, introducing the vaccine would not be a good use of limited NHS resources, which could be better spent elsewhere.
In January a European Commission-funded study concluded that the QALY system of assessing new treatments was flawed.
The announcement from the JCVI will provoke anger and dismay from charities and families affected by the disease. They will argue that the committee has not adequately assessed the appalling lifelong burden of meningitis.
Really we should not be influenced by sentimentality, the issue is about resources. If an individual disease like this is looked at by people directly affected, decisions can easily appear unjust. Were we to try to save the life of every person afflicted by every disease however, we would quickly drive the standard of living of healthy people back to the medieval era.
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