Call for government to address vaccine concerns

25th April 2018

Meningitis charities have met with Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, Steve Brine MP, to ask for fairer rules to fund vaccines

Minister meeting

We’ve teamed up with the Meningitis Research Foundation to jointly share our concerns that a new government report has proposed changes that could actually make it harder for vaccines to be made available on the NHS in the future.

In listening to our concerns and agreeing that the report’s highly technical nature made it difficult to understand, the Minister agreed to make the report more accessible by producing an easy-to-read version.  

Mr Brine also asked both charities to respond to the consultation on behalf of families and individuals affected by meningitis.

Petition response

Recommended by the government’s own vaccine advisory group the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in 2014, the aim of the Cost Effectiveness Methodology for Immunisation Programmes and Procurement (CEMIPP) review was to assess the methods used by government for assessing which vaccines to fund on the NHS, in the belief that the current process undervalues the impact of preventing uncommon, severe diseases in childhood – such as meningitis.

This means that access to some life saving vaccines can be restricted. The meningococcal group B (MenB) vaccine, for example, was at first rejected as not ‘cost-effective’. When it was finally introduced, it was only available for babies rather than for a wider age group. We continue to campaign to extend the age range that can receive this vaccine on the NHS.

The CEMIPP working group was set up to consider vaccine decisions and government initially promised that its report would be published in 2016.  This followed a surge of public feeling that saw over 820,000 people sign a petition to extend the age range for the MenB vaccine, following the sad death of Faye Burdett in February 2016. 

After a long delay the report has now been published, but the charities share concerns that – if fully implemented – could further restrict access to vaccines.

Recommendations in the report

There are three key recommendations in the report, which would change the way vaccines are funded

  • Reducing the amount the government is willing to pay for the benefits that vaccinations offer
  • Valuing the lifelong and future benefits of vaccines more than they currently do; but
  • Capping the total amount of benefit measured to a set timescale, even if benefits are still predicted beyond this point

A committee of government health economists has stated that these recommendations must be implemented together, without giving evidence or explaining why. They also suggest that these recommendations could be adopted now for vaccines, with no change to the amount the government would pay for treatments. 

Taken together these recommendations would disadvantage vaccines compared to other medicines, and government health economists admit that this would signal a shift away from preventing illness in preference for waiting to treat people once they get ill.

With Meningitis Research Foundation, we are calling for the Department of Health to:

  • Give clear steps and a timetable outlining how they will address the original concerns from JCVI relating to preventing uncommon, severe diseases in childhood, such as meningitis - it is clear that the original intention of the report has been forgotten 
  • Implement the evidence-based recommendation that could help to address these concerns (reducing the discounting rate applied in economic decision making) which would better account for lifelong and future benefits of vaccines
  • Reject recommendations that would unfairly cap the true benefits of vaccines
  • Reject the recommendation to cut the amount of money the NHS would be willing to spend on the benefits vaccines offer by 25% as this has been widely criticised by academics
  • Provide evidence that explains why they believe the three key recommendations should be implemented together, as proposed, which would unfairly disadvantage vaccines

A public consultation is now taking place on the report and both charities will also respond to this on behalf of families and individuals affected by meningitis.

Meningitis Now and Meningitis Research Foundation have released the following joint statement:

“This government report does not provide answers to over 820,000 petitioners asking for fairer access to free vaccines. The current processes for enabling the funding of vaccines are inadequate when it comes to meningitis and other severe, uncommon childhood diseases. The government’s own vaccine advisory group has said that they have concerns with the methods used to evaluate the benefits of these vaccines. We’re encouraged that the Minister has taken the opportunity to meet with us and hear our views. Families have been waiting for answers since 2014 and it is time for government to take real action to address this issue.”