Thousands of UK Teens Will Help Settle a Vaccine Debate Over Meningitis
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Copyright 2000 – 2017 Fox Television Stations, LLC. How many more babies have to die? Read this: How many more babies have to die? More than half a million people have signed a petition demanding that all children under 11 be granted access to a lifesaving meningitis vaccine.
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The growing campaign was last night backed by doctors, MPs and health charities, who said it was a disgrace that British children are still dying from the disease. Public anger around the issue was roused by the death of two-year-old Faye Burdett, who died on Valentine’s Day. Sad case: Public anger around the issue was roused by the death of two-year-old Faye Burdett from Kent, who died on Valentine’s Day. She was never given the Bexsero vaccine, which can protect against meningitis B, the disease’s deadliest form.
Her death has triggered a growing and heartfelt campaign, with a petition to Parliament last night signed by more than 500,000 people. Last September Britain became the first country in the world to launch a vaccination programme for meningitis B, a disease which kills about 120 people each year and leaves another 400 with lifelong disabilities. Alex Patterson was such a robust, healthy little boy that his mum, Sam, still struggles with the knowledge that he succumbed so very quickly to the illness that took his life. The 11-month-old had been playing happily with big brother Callum, now four, in the park on a Sunday morning in April last year — but within hours he was being taken by ambulance from their home in Girton, near Cambridge, to Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Sam, 34, a medical engineer who is expecting another son in April, recalls vividly how her blue-eyed little boy fell sick after his lunch. I remember one moment where he shook all over,’ she says. A gut feeling that something was wrong made her call an out-of-hours GP. She was relieved to be reassured that Alex’s symptoms sounded like a tummy bug. At 10pm, dad James, 34, an electronics engineer, spotted a tiny rash on Alex’s neck. We called an ambulance and they got us to Addenbrooke’s very quickly.
They were fantastic, but he died at 8pm the next day. His symptoms had started just 30 hours earlier. It was a terrible, terrible shock. The youngster’s death came just days after it was announced that the vaccine would finally be made available to infants. We got Callum, our eldest, vaccinated within a few weeks of losing Alex.
20, yet the vaccine has been made available only to babies during the first year of their life. Government advisers say more evidence is needed about how effective, and cost-effective, the vaccine is before it is made available to older groups but campaigners say any delay will lead to more children dying. Meningitis B is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to multiple organ failure and death. It affects about 1,870 people in the country each year, half of them under-fives, striking so quickly it is often too late to treat by the time it is spotted. Babies and young children are especially susceptible because their immune systems are not fully formed. The petition, one of the biggest seen on the Parliament website, calls for all children up to the age of 11 to be vaccinated. Britain should be leading the way in the world so we can combat meningitis, because meningitis is beatable, beatable, beatable.
Charities, drugs companies and government all need to work together. We’ve beaten smallpox, we’ve beaten polio — meningitis can be the same. It is inexcusable that meningitis is still a problem in the 21st century. Meningitis terrifies families, which is shocking when we have the capability to vaccinate against it. Our vision is a future where nobody in the UK loses their life to meningitis. From our perspective, the only way to prevent it is through vaccines.
In an ideal world everybody would get it. We know that is not realistic, but if you go after the most at risk groups, that would be a fantastic step forward. Georgie Hall was a curly-haired, bright-eyed 23-month-old who loved nothing more than playing with her Hetty vacuum cleaner — a toy version of the adult machine. Today, Georgie’s little pink Hetty has been turned into a plant pot and is in the garden as a very special reminder of a much-wanted daughter.
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In two days, it will be a year to the day since Georgie’s parents, Matt and Paula, had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn off the machines keeping their daughter alive after she contracted meningitis B. The couple, who live in Nuneaton, are painfully aware of what might have been, had the vaccine been rolled out sooner. On the day she became ill in February last year, Georgie had been to nursery as usual. Matt was in London on business at the time, and Georgie’s decline was relayed to him by Paula, 38, in a series of telephone calls. Georgie had woken up screaming after her nap and Paula took her downstairs to settle her.
On the way back upstairs, Georgie vomited, but after Paula cleaned her up she appeared to settle. But within a short time, she woke up screaming again. Noticing that her breathing was irregular, a distraught Paula bundled her daughter up and dashed in the car to hospital. She was started on antibiotics as a precaution while they did tests,’ says Matt. But then a nurse noticed a blemish on Georgie’s shoulder and another in her groin area. By the time Matt, 35, got to his daughter’s side the next morning, she was very ill. She was still aware and asked for a cuddle.
I’m so glad I got back when I did and was there for those last few words,’ says Matt. Three days after being taken to hospital, Georgie died. Now Matt and Paula have set up Georgie’s Gift, a charity to help families and hospitals in the fight against meningitis. We just want to prevent as many people as possible from going through what we have,’ says Matt. When one-year-old Caden Jones was admitted to hospital after suddenly falling ill in March 2014, doctors reassured his parents it was just a chest infection. But when they reached the ward, his mother Caroline Williams noticed a bruise-like mark on his neck. Another doctor was called, by which time there was another tiny red mark on his arm.
He said Caden should be treated for meningitis as a precaution,’ recalls Caroline, a 34-year-old NHS care assistant. No parent wants to hear that. The words were especially hard, given that they were talking about the mischievous little boy she thought she’d never have, having struggled to conceive because of polycystic ovary syndrome. Caden was put on antibiotics and left in a darkened room. But a few minutes later, another doctor went in and switched the lights on.
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Caroline, who lives in Tredegar, Wales, with her partner Phil Jones. Caden was rushed to theatre so doctors could give him a tube to help him breathe. I’m so sorry, but he’s not going to make it. We went to see him while they were still doing CPR. We’d lost our little miracle boy. At first we didn’t know how to feel, but then we realised he’d been sent to us by his big brother.
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We have a vaccine that can prevent it and we should at least protect those most at risk. Tommy Smith, a smiley three-year-old, died in January last year, 16 hours after he first became ill. I was with him all day at home,’ his dad Martin, 46, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, recalls. Up until 1pm, he was normal. Then he just lay on the floor and started mumbling and grumbling. He was unusually tired and didn’t want to do anything.
I gave him Calpol and kept checking him. When Sharon, his wife, came home at 6pm, she noticed a small spot on Tommy’s neck, then more around his groin. He also had a high temperature. They took Tommy straight to Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham, where after just half an hour, doctors confirmed his parents’ fears: Tommy had meningitis B. The rash spread wildly, and Tommy was put on a ventilator before being transferred to Stoke-on-Trent.
Within 90 minutes, he had suffered three cardiac arrests. Everything is still a horrible blur,’ says Martin. They took us out of the room while he was in cardiac arrest. Then they came and sat us down, and asked our permission to turn the machines off.
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We didn’t get to say any last words. In the midst of their grief, the Smiths, who have another son, Matthew, 19, were told that a vaccine would soon be available. The jab began being included as a routine jab for newborns on September 1 last year — the day before what would have been Tommy’s fourth birthday. Tommy died at the age of three,’ says Martin. That is proof the vaccine needs to be offered to children of all ages.
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Mrs Davie compared the programme to the meningitis C vaccine, launched in 1999. That was initially available to anyone up to the age of 19, later extended to 24. Later, when enough people had been vaccinated and widespread immunity established, the vaccination programme was reduced to just young babies and teenagers. The Joint Committee on Vaccinations should review the evidence, should explain their decision and then government should follow and fund the evidence.
This is not a matter for politicians who do not know all the evidence and all the facts. Professor Andrew Pollard, an Oxford University paediatrician who chairs the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, last night insisted his board was constantly reviewing the evidence. He added that his team was examining extending the vaccination programme but it would first focus on whether teenagers, rather than toddlers, should receive it. There are six sub-types of the meningococcus bacteria: A, B, C, W, Y and Z. In Britain, B and C are the biggest problem but W is rising fast and those between 15 and 19 are especially susceptible to this type of the disease. Former England rugby captain Matt Dawson urged people to sign the petition after his son Sami was treated for the disease. When any new immunisation programme is introduced, there has to be a date to determine eligibility — a decision based on the best independent clinical recommendation to ensure we can protect children most at risk of MenB.
When our nationwide meningitis B vaccination programme was introduced last year, the UK became the first country to protect our babies from this devastating disease. All children who are now aged up to nine months should have been offered the vaccine. General practitioners are running out of the meningitis B jab because there has been so much demand by anxious parents. Surgeries are turning away toddlers and young children or adding them to ever-growing waiting lists. Doctors have been told to reserve depleting stocks for babies — who are offered it on the NHS — as new supplies may not arrive until July. Demand from parents has intensified since Wednesday when the family of two-year-old Faye Burdett, from Maidstone, Kent, released heartbreaking images of their little girl dying from meningitis B. Since the NHS started offering it to babies in September, thousands of parents contacted surgeries willing to pay hundreds of pounds to have older children protected as well.
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They have been told by GSK not to take any new bookings for children aged over one. 450 per child — twice the standard price. 450 for the course of three doses. GSK has admitted that new supplies of the Bexsero vaccine may not be available until July, five months away.