The UK’s first lifesaving vaccine for Meningitis B, the most common form of bacterial meningitis in the UK, will be free on the NHS for babies – subject to price negotiations.

The Government announced today that revolutionary Bexsero will be in the childhood immunisation schedule if it can secure a price to make it cost-effective for the NHS.

Meningitis Now, the UK’s largest meningitis charity, and its supporters welcome the landmark news after months of lobbying, and desperately hope negotiations will be swift.

The charity’s latest figures suggest that around 675 Meningitis B cases in the UK could have been prevented since the vaccine was licensed for use in January 2013. At least 200 people could have been saved from death or disability in the same time.

Meningitis Now founder Steve Dayman MBE, who launched the UK’s meningitis movement after losing his baby Spencer to Meningitis B in 1982, said: “This is the most monumental announcement in the fight against the disease in the 31 years I have campaigned to eradicate meningitis. It is the decision we’ve pushed for, to have the Meningitis B vaccine given free to all infants. There is no doubt that it will save thousands of lives and spare survivors and their families the pain of living with life-changing after-effects. We thank our supporters for their determined campaigning and the JCVI for listening to our arguments on the true burden of this disease.”

The UK has one of the highest Meningitis B incidence rates in the world – affecting an average of 1,870 people each year and kills in hours. Anyone can get the strain, with one in 10 people affected dying and one in three survivors suffering life-long after-effects. It kills more children under five than any other infectious disease in the UK.

The ground-breaking vaccine stands to save thousands of lives and many from life-changing after-effects such as limb loss, brain damage and epilepsy.

The Department of Health will now enter into negotiations with vaccine company Novartis to agree a price, before introducing it on the NHS.

The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises Government on vaccinations, endorses Bexsero for the NHS subject to agreement on cost. By law, the Government must accept the recommendation.

This comes after the JCVI twice delayed a decision last year due to lack of evidence of cost-effectiveness, before receiving fresh information.

Meningitis Now chief executive Sue Davie said: “We are thrilled the JCVI listened to our arguments, including the disease’s impact on the whole family, survivors’ quality of life and true burden of after-effects. We won’t celebrate until the first youngster receives the vaccine for free and we urge the Department of Health and vaccine company to conclude negotiations quickly – time lost is lives lost. While this is a fantastic leap forward, there is still much work to do because there still aren’t vaccines for all forms of meningitis. We all must remain vigilant to the disease’s symptoms and those affected must get the support they need.”

Bexsero is the first Meningitis B vaccine and babies will need three doses. It was created using a new process ‘reverse vaccinology’ and will cover up to 88 per cent of strains.

The EU licensed Bexsero for use in Europe in January 2013 and has been available to buy privately since December costing up to £600. A recent Meningitis Now and Mumsnet survey revealed two in three parents could not afford to immunise their child.

There are still several deadly forms of meningitis such as Group B Streptococcal, which do not have vaccines.

Meningitis Now’s Beat it Now! campaign to bring in the vaccine saw a 36,500-name petition calling for the vaccine on the NHS, delivered to the Department of Health. More than 135 MPs and many more AMs, MSPs, MLAs in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, support Beat it Now!

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