Charity Meningitis Now is calling for free vaccination against meningococcal group B (Men B) disease to be extended to all children within a family where there has been a case of meningitis, as the next phase of its Beat it Now! campaign.
It has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Department of Health and is also asking GPs to support the wider rollout and help provide peace of mind for families already affected by the disease.
The charity and its supporters campaigned for over two years to see the ground-breaking vaccine for Men B introduced free on the NHS for all newborns from 1 September this year.
Over the next decade it could potentially prevent more than 4,000 cases of meningococcal disease in children under five in the UK.
Despite the success of the campaign the vaccine is only available for the UK’s newborn babies and a small number of children who are very susceptible to infection, leaving many young children outside Government’s timeframe for vaccination.
Now the charity wants to see vaccination extended in cases where there is a family history of the disease.
Meningitis Now, Chief Executive Sue Davie said: “We see every day the devastating impact of meningitis on individuals and families and we know the fear it leaves behind – a fear of meningitis striking again in the family.”
The charity is now calling on Government and the NHS to find a way of providing the vaccine to young children in situations where there has been a previous meningitis experience in the family.
“A family who has faced this disease once deserves the right to protect their child as much as is medically possible from it striking again”, Sue added. “It is not too late to give them some peace of mind for their other children.
“Individual surgeries are unlikely to have many families who are in this situation – we implore them to find a way to achieve this with Government support.”
Recent research* carried out by Meningitis Now highlights the significant impact the disease has on parents’ and carers’ physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.
Some parents described being put in a position where they felt unable to protect their children from a disease that has already caused so much havoc, leading to anxiety and illness.
“Families who have experienced Men B should be treated as a special case and offered the vaccine through the NHS,” Sue added.
The call has been welcomed by Meningitis Now supporter Julie Tuckley, whose young son Tommy was the face of the original Beat it Now! campaign.
Tommy was struck down with meningitis at the age of 5 months in March 2012. The disease was so ferocious and widespread that he was given only a 5 per cent chance of survival. Tommy defied the odds, but was left with multiple amputations and will require lifelong support.
Julie, from Walsall, a staunch supporter of the Beat it Now! campaign, gave birth to Jorgie, a sister for Tommy, earlier this year. Whilst pleased that the vaccine is now available for newborn babies, she is worried for the future of her daughter, who falls outside the automatic age range to receive it.
“My beautiful little Tommy is amazing” Julie said. “Doctors say it’s a miracle that he survived. We’re so proud of our beautiful boy. But what happened to Tommy still impacts on us now and will for life.
“I worry every day for Jorgie that the same thing might happen to her. Families like ours shouldn’t live with this cloud on the horizon and I urge the Government to show some compassion and make families with a history of meningitis a special case.”
The charity has vowed to continue its campaigning to see the Men B vaccine use extended to other at risk groups and the promised Adolescent Carriage Survey delivered. For more information, visit www.MeningitisNow.org.