By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News
Tilly Lockey lost her hands after contracting meningitis B
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Putting a price on saving lives
Meningitis jab gets Europe licence
Meningitis jab set for UK licence
The only vaccine to protect against a deadly form of meningitis should not be introduced in the UK, the body that advises governments on immunisation says.
About 1,870 people contract meningitis B each year and one in 10 dies.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the vaccine was not cost-effective and should not yet be adopted by the NHS.
Meningitis charities have been campaigning for it to be introduced.
It is mostly children under five who are at risk from the bacterial infection, which leads to inflammations of the brain and spinal cord.
Of those who survive a meningitis B infection, one in four is left with life altering after-effects such as brain damage or limb loss.
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges - the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
Meningococcal bacteria are common and carried harmlessly in the nose or throat by about 1 in 10 people.
They are passed on through close contact.
Anyone can get meningitis but babies and young children are most vulnerable.
Symptoms include a high fever with cold hands and feet, agitation, confusion, vomiting and headaches.
There are vaccines against other forms of meningitis, but the jab developed by Novartis is the only one thought to protect against meningitis B.
It is thought to be effective against 73% of the different strains of the disease. However, no country has yet adopted the vaccine so there is limited evidence on how it would affect the number of cases.
The JCVI said: "On the basis of the available evidence, routine infant or toddler immunisation using Bexsero is highly unlikely to be cost effective at any vaccine price based on the accepted threshold for cost effectiveness used in the UK and could not be recommended."
Prof David Salisbury, the director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: "This is a very difficult situation where we have a new vaccine against meningitis B but we lack important evidence.
"We need to know how well it will protect, how long it will protect and if it will stop the bacteria from spreading from person to person. We need to work with the scientific community and the manufacturer to find ways to resolve these uncertainties so that we can come to a clear answer."
It may seem bizarre, even illogical, that the body that advises the government on immunisation should not recommend the introduction of a vaccine against the most common cause of the disease.”
The UK introduced a vaccine against another form of the disease, meningitis C, in 1999. There used to be around 1,000 cases a year, but now the disease affects only a handful of people.
Chris Head, the head of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "Today's news is a severe blow for everyone campaigning against this dreadful disease. We know every delay costs lives and leaves many more with life-long disabilities.
"The UK's child mortality rates are amongst the highest in Europe. We simply cannot afford to let this licensed vaccine hang in limbo any longer.
"There is a tiny window of opportunity over the holiday season to encourage a change of heart and we are urging our members and supporters to lobby their MPs while we submit yet more, potent arguments to the JCVI on why this vaccine is vital."
Sue Davie, the chief executive of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK, said: "This is extremely disappointing news after all our supporters and our hard work over decades to introduce a vaccine.
"We understand the committee's concerns about impact and cost, but we believe this vaccine is safe and we know it will save lives. The more we delay the more lives are being lost."
Source: By James GallagherHealth and science reporter, BBC News