The government has rejected calls to vaccinate more children against meningitis B.
More than 800,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition calling on the government to protect all under-11s against the "terrible infection". It is the most popular online petition in parliamentary history.
But offering the vaccine to all children would not be "cost-effective", the Department of Health (DH) responded yesterday (March 2).
Infants currently receive the Bexsero vaccine on the NHS at two months of age, with boosters at four and 12 months, as part of a scheme launched last September.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on vaccination schemes, believes this group has the highest risk of contracting the infection, the DH said.
"Extremely difficult" for parents
The DH accepted it is “extremely difficult” for parents whose children are too old to receive the vaccine. But there must be a cut-off point for eligibility, it stresed.
“There is no way of establishing new programmes to target those at highest risk without introducing inequalities,” it said.
The vaccine is also available for a small number of older children and adults who are more likely to contract the infection, such as those with no spleen, the DH added.
However, the government has agreed to a House of Commons debate on the petition. Before announcing a date for the debate, MPs will hear from "families who have been affected by meningitis B, as well as from relevant medical experts", the DH said.
In November, Boots announced a private meningitis B vaccination service for children aged between two and 10 years of age.